California becomes first state to require solar panels on new homes

Solar panels will be required to accompany new homes built in California after 2020. Austin Dave/The Signal

Santa Clarita developers, government leaders and environmental activists were left to speculate on the future of various local housing projects after a new crop of housing standards were approved in Sacramento Wednesday.

Seven months after officials introduced the 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards report, the California Building Standards Commission voted to solidify California as the first state in the country to require solar panels be built on all new homes.

“Starting in 2020, it will be a standard feature in a new house,” said Amber Beck, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission. “Developers will be required to build houses with (solar panels), just as they are required to build houses with a certain thickness of insulation. This will likely increase the cost to build and subsequently buy the home.”

The mandate is projected to increase the cost of constructing a new home by about $9,500, but homeowners “will save $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over 30 years,” according to California Energy Commission officials, who authored the initial standards report.

“There are exceptions to the new rules for homeowners facing issues like shade, orientation and size of the roof,” Beck added.

The state’s decision has received a mixed reaction with Santa Clarita officials, but officials at College of Canyons, as well as local various environmental groups, have said that the statewide decision to require solar panels is a good thing for both the environment and their students.

“We have had a solar construction technology program here at COC for the last eight years, and we have been preparing our students to meet the demand for (solar technicians),” said Jerry Buckley, assistant superintendent and vice president of instruction at COC and chairperson for the Santa Clarita Environmental Education Consortium. “And anything that reduces our carbon footprint in our valley, and the impact we have on climate change, is a good thing.”

However, State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, a long-time critic of various “renewable sources” initiatives implemented by his fellow legislators, says the new solar housing codes do not “make economic or environmental sense.”

“The price of housing in California is already through the roof, now we are going to require solar panels on that roof?” said Wilk. “California already pays bordering states to take our excess solar power. All this is going to do is raise the price of construction even higher.”

Joining Wilk and the other state lawmakers opposed to this most recent change in housing standards are those who see this as Sacramento “failing to find a balanced solution to an issue.”

“While the state wants to be a leader in renewable energy, they also need to be responsible to our citizens and provide housing options,” said Holly Schroeder, president and chief operating officer for the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. “We have an affordability and availability crisis right now, and increasing the cost of homebuilding just prices out families.”

“Solar is a great thing and we need to be environmentally conscious, looking for more ways to get sustainable energy,” said Vista Canyon developer Jim Backer. “People think that developers have so much money, but unfortunately if you put something in there like expensive solar panels … they’ll have to charge the customers.”

City Hall officials said they would not have an accurate estimate of the number of housing projects that would be affected by the policy changes until “the second half of next year,” said Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita.

The commission’s report said solar panels could save consumers about $40 a month, and could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions “by 700,000 metric tons over three years, equivalent to taking 115,000 fossil fuel cars off the road.”

The update to the housing rules is a part of Sacramento’s overall goal to have 50 percent of the state’s electrical resources for utilities be produced by renewables by 2030, according to the California Energy Commission.

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