By Jason Hopkins
California’s government is officially mandating solar installations for all new homes, a measure intended to help the environment, but will likely raise housing costs and deepen the state’s energy complications.
The California Energy Commission voted Wednesday to adopt the 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, rules that require solar panels be included on all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings up to three stories high. Exceptions will be made for homes covered in shade or residents involved in other renewable energy programs. The mandate won’t effect existing houses, but will apply to new ones beginning in January 2020.
“This is going to be an important step forward for our state to continue to lead the clean energy economy,” said the director of technology advancement for the California Solar and Storage Association, in a statement published Wednesday.
The mandate, which passed the commission by a unanimous 5-0 vote, is welcome news for solar companies that will soon see their business in the state skyrocket — as was evident in the numerous solar power representatives that attended the commission meeting to voice their support.
“California continues to put forth groundbreaking policies that support renewable energy and help lay the foundation for a better, more resilient and robust distributed energy infrastructure—especially when paired with battery storage. This solar decision could be yet another win for America’s energy independence,” said William Berger, the CEO of Sunnova Energy Corporation, in a statement shortly before the commission’s vote.
The sweeping mandate — the first of its kind in the United States — will radically change the energy industry in California. Currently, only 15 to 20 percent of new single-family homes in the state include solar installations. A shift to nearly 100 percent in nearly two year’s time will likely cause headaches, not just for the energy sector, but also for the state’s housing market.
The requirement is estimated to increase housing construction costs by $25,000 to $30,000. Additional energy-saving regulations on windows, lighting, insulation and appliances may add another $10,000 to $15,000 to housing costs. Such an increase would deter any potential new homeowner, but places extra burden on residents living on some of the most expensive real estate in the country. In 2016, California’s median home price was around $500,000 — over double the U.S. average. Low income earners have struggled for years to own a home in The Golden State. Supporters of Wednesday’s new rule deflect talk of these additional costs by pointing to an estimated energy savings that come after more than two decades of solar panel use.
California’s solar panel mandate could also add to the state’s growing energy woes.
As more residents pursue alternative forms of energy consumption, more of them are walking away from conventional utilities. Programs such as net metering, community choice aggregation (CCA), and Direct Access now account for around 25 percent of California’s entire retail electric load this year and, based on projections, will reach 85 percent by the mid-2020s. Electric utilities, uncertain of how many customers they will have in the future, are becoming more hesitant to sign long-term contracts with power generators.
Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, has warned that the state may be at risk of a full-blown energy crises. Skyrocketing electricity prices, rolling blackouts and other problems may soon beset the state unless proper reforms and preparations are made, according to the CPUC president. Picker’s warnings bring back memory of the energy crises the state endured from 2000 to 2001.
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