New homes and low-rise apartment buildings across California would include solar panels under first-in-the-nation rules approved Wednesday by the California Energy Commission.
The rules now go to the state Building Standards Commission, where they were expected to easily win approval.
“This is groundbreaking,” said Pierre Delforge, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He said the rules “will save energy, lower customer bills, keep homes comfortable in increasing heat waves and reduce pollution from California’s homes and buildings.”
The requirements, which would go into effect in 2020, could add more than $10,000 to the construction costs of new homes, the commission says. Some builders say the costs could be more than twice that.
But the commission and most builders agree that the costs should be more than made up in energy savings over the life of the solar energy system. And the plan has drawn generally positive reviews from the construction industry.
“Adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap in statewide buildings standards,” said Robert Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association. “No other state in the nation will have anything close to this, and you can bet 49 other states will be watching to see what happens here in California.”
Some conservatives were not so enthusiastic, noting that the state already has some of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. A National Association of Realtors survey for the fourth quarter of 2017 listed four California markets among the nation’s five most expensive.
San Jose topped the list with a median price in excess of $1.2 million.
“The state’s housing crisis is real,” State Assemblyman Brian Dahle said. “California’s affordability problem is making it more and more difficult for people to afford to live here.”
The commission projects that more than 100,000 single-family homes and almost 50,000 multi-family buildings will be built across the state in 2020. Raymer acknowledged that the ambitious plan will probably roll in with some “hiccups.” Less than 20% of homes built in the state now include the panels.
The rules also address insulation and appliance efficiency. And they include efforts to increase battery storage and increase use of electricity over natural gas. Use of batteries to store solar energy will be crucial to cost savings, Raymer said.
“Battery storage technology will allow the homeowner to capture the cheaper electricity … the middle of the day,” Raymer said. “And keep that power on-site for use in the early evening hours when electrical rates go way up.”
The rules apply to building permits issued after Jan. 1, 2020. There are some exceptions to the solar panel rule, such as homes that would be shaded by trees or buildings or when roofs are too small for the panels.
Abigail Ross, CEO of the national Solar Energy Industries Association, said solar prices in the state have fallen by more than 50% in the last five years.
“Other states may not be ready for this step yet,” she said. “But this is a precedent-setting policy, one that will bring enormous benefits and cost savings to consumers.”
For more than a decade, the commission has been operating under goals that would provide “net-zero” energy for new residents by 2020 and for new commercial buildings a decade later.