California Becomes First State to Require All New Homes to Have Solar Panels

Solar panels on a Southern California home. State law requires at least 50 percent of California’s electricity to come from noncarbon-producing sources by 2030.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Long a leader and trendsetter in its clean-energy goals, California took a giant step on Wednesday, becoming the first state to require all new homes to have solar power.

The new requirement, to take effect in two years, brings solar power into the mainstream in a way it has never been until now. It will add thousands of dollars to the cost of home when a shortage of affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues.

That made the relative ease of its approval — in a unanimous vote by the five-member California Energy Commission before a standing-room crowd, with little debate — all the more remarkable.

State officials and clean-energy advocates say the extra cost to home buyers will be more than made up in lower energy bills. That prospect has won over even the construction industry, which has embraced solar capability as a selling point.

“This adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap,” Bob Raymer, senior engineer for the California Building Industry Association, said during the public comments before the vote. “You can bet every state will be watching to see what happens.”

Several California cities have required that some new buildings include solar power, or have made commitments to 100 percent clean energy through various sources. New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have also considered legislation to require that new buildings be solar-ready, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And Hawaii is among the states that have mandated other energy-efficiency measures, like solar water heaters.

But California’s move is by far the boldest and most consequential of any.

California law requires at least 50 percent of the state’s electricity to come from noncarbon-producing sources by 2030. Solar power has increasingly become a driver in the growth of the state’s alternative energy production.

And a new rate structure coming next year will charge California customers based on the time of day they use electricity. So homeowners with energy-efficiency features — a battery in particular, allowing energy to be stored for when it is most efficiently used — will avoid higher costs.

“Any additional amount in the mortgage is more than offset,” said Andrew McAllister, an Energy Commission member who led a building-code review that produced the proposal. “It’s good for the customer.”

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SOURCE: New York Times, Ivan Penn