California May Require Solar Panels on All New Homes

California may soon become the first state in the nation to require solar panels on all new new homes and apartment buildings. The California Energy Commission voted 5-0 to adopt the new requirements Wednesday. The mandate now heads to the state Building Standards Commission, where it is expected to be approved.

Advocates heralded the vote as a “landmark” step toward greater energy efficiency in California. The state estimates the new rule would cut emissions by 1.4 million metric tons over three years. But opponents warn it could be a recipe for disaster.

California is already reeling from a pressing housing affordability crisis which lawmakers have been struggling to address at both the state and local levels. These new rules would add an estimated $10,000 or more to the cost of constructing a home.

Berkeley Professor Severin Borenstein, Director Emeritus of the University of California Institute, was one of those urging the Commission to reject the idea. He thinks the plan could ultimately backfire.

Rooftop solar is “a much more expensive way of increasing renewables on the grid” than other alternatives, Borenstein said in an email to the commission.  “By demonstrating a very expensive way to reduce greenhouse gases, I think this could very likely be used in other states and countries as an argument against moving toward renewable energy.”

Supporters of the new mandate insist the added construction costs would be offset by energy savings over time. But those arguments are of little consolation to home buyers scrounging for a down payment or trying to qualify for a loan.

The new rules would not take effect until after 2020. They also include new mandates for appliances and insulation.

It’s a “precedent-setting policy,” said Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Abigail Ross, and “one that will bring enormous benefits and cost savings to consumers.”


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