California officially became the first state in the nation on Wednesday, Dec. 5 to require homes built in 2020 and later be solar powered.
To a smattering of applause, the California Building Standards Commission voted unanimously to add energy standards approved last May by another panel to the state building code.
Two commissioners and several public speakers lauded the new code as “a historic undertaking” and a model for the nation.
“These provisions really are historic and will be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” said Kent Sasaki, a structural engineer and one of six commissioners voting for the new energy code. “(It’s) the beginning of substantial improvement in how we produce energy and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.”
The new provisions are expected to dramatically boost the number of rooftop solar panels in the Golden State. Last year, builders took out permits for more than 115,000 new homes — almost half of them for single-family homes.
Wednesday’s action upholds a May 9 vote by another body, the California Energy Commission, seeking to fulfill a decade-old goal to make the state reliant on cleaner, alternative energy. The energy panel’s vote was subject to final approval by the Building Standards Commission.
The Building Standards Commission was limited to reviewing the energy panel’s rulemaking process, not the content of the standards, said commission Chairwoman Marybel Batjer. Commissioners said the process was more than sufficient, with 35 meetings, hearings and webinars held over a 15-month period. The energy panel received more than 3,000 comments from over 100 stakeholders, officials said.
While nobody spoke Wednesday in opposition to the new provisions, the commission received more than 300 letters from around the state opposing the solar mandate because of the added cost.
Energy officials estimated the provisions will add $10,000 to the cost of building a single-family home, about $8,400 from adding solar and about $1,500 for making homes more energy-efficient. But those costs would be offset by lower utility bills over the 30-year lifespan of the solar panels.
One commission member worried the mandate would make it harder for California wildfire victims to rebuild, but supporters assured him that won’t be a problem.
Homeowners will have two options that eliminate the upfront costs of adding solar: Leasing the solar panels or signing a “power purchase agreement” that pays for the electricity without buying the panels, said Drew Bohan, executive director of the California Energy Commission.
One solar-industry representative said the net savings from adding solar power will be around $40 a month or nearly $500 a year.