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Sunday, Jun 26, 2022

Lancaster Shines With Optimism Over Solar Deal

By bringing together a large Chinese manufacturer and a major home builder, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris is sending a message about the future of his city. To BYD Corp., which is scouting Southern California for a site for its automotive division, the message is that Lancaster is an efficient city that can get things done. To the elected officials in the rest of Los Angeles County, Parris’s message is that Lancaster – and the Antelope Valley as a whole – shouldn’t be a dumping ground for their problems but instead is the inevitable direction of where businesses will locate. “This is a wonderful opportunity to grow the city and do it in a way never dreamt of before,” Parris said. The partnership between BYD, maker of batteries and consumer electronics, and KB Homes is the first in North America for the Chinese company. BYD will supply at its own cost the solar panels, batteries, LED lights, and other energy-related materials for use in five homes at KB’s Alamosa community – one model home and four to be sold to buyers. The energy efficient homes are a way for BYD to dip its toe into the U.S. market in advance to taking a bigger plunge as it scouts the Los Angeles region to place its North American headquarters and a factory to produce electric cars. Lancaster is included among the potential sites. KB Homes and BYD never knew of the other until the city government stepped in to make the introduction. The city is waiving its development fees for the five homes and has agreed to convince Los Angeles County to not collect construction fees. This has been done to show BYD what the manufacturer can expect if the city is chosen as the location for the auto plant. After all, the energy efficient homes project came together in just 45 days. With the city acting as matchmaker, the pitch was made and Tom DiPrima, executive vice president in the Southern California Division, took the idea to his superiors who then mulled it over. For KB to partner with BYD, it had to be assured that the additional cost of the energy efficient homes would not be passed on to the buyers. That assurance was evident in the less expensive source of silicon BYD uses in its solar panels and the battery technology to store the sun-produced energy, DiPrima said. Less-costly homes In the long term less costly methods to power a home will benefit both KB and buyers. “The affordability of reduced energy costs puts more people in more homes,” DiPrima said. That the deal was completed in such a short period of time came as no surprise to Parris who in his first term has brought change to the culture at City Hall. He treats his position as that of a chief executive: giving everyone a chance to speak, making a decision and following through “I think it will surprise a lot of other people because we’ve gotten to the point where government is seen as an obstacle,” Parris said. Lancaster city government is anything but an obstacle, especially as Parris envisions the Antelope Valley as a center of renewable energy. Within the city limits is a thermal solar power pilot project from eSolar and a proposed project from DayStar Farms Inc. for a solar energy business park is tied up in litigation. On county land west of the city NextLight Renewable Power LLC plans to build AV Solar Ranch One. KB Homes, too, has shown an interest in energy efficient homes, offering solar panels, pre-wiring for electric vehicle charging stations, and drought resistant landscaping. Now BYD can be added into the mix with its first expansion into the U.S. market. Buffett investment The company name may not be known to the average American but it caught the eye of investor Warren Buffett whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns a 10 percent stake. That someone of Buffett’s stature would get behind BYD shows great confidence in what the company offers. “Anytime you see financial players putting money in that is a good sign,” said Mel Layne, president of the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance. The pairing of BYD and KB Homes is viewed by business observers as a great first step for the Chinese company in the U.S. market. With no decision expected soon on the location of the headquarters and car factory, Lancaster finds time to build on the relationship city and county officials have developed with the company executives. Lancaster after all isn’t the biggest city in contention for BYD’s attention and does not have any manufacturers of a similar size already located there. So instead it must tout its advantage through its pro-active city council, a lower cost of living, an enterprise zone that provides tax breaks, and an available workforce. “When you look at the Antelope Valley we are very competitive,” Layne said. “I think that will be a reason that people will look at this area.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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