California officially becomes first in nation mandating solar power for new homes

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.

“These standards won’t necessarily make homes more expensive
to buy. What they will do is save money on utility costs,” said
Pierre Delforge, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources
Defense Council. “This is not only the right thing to do for the
climate, it is financially smart.”

Meanwhile, the changes won endorsements both from
environmentalists and the California Building Industry
Association.

“Six years ago, I was very fearful of this,” said Bob
Raymer, technical director for the state building association.
“But the very open arrangement that we have with the (energy
commission) … brought us to the point where we can support
this.”

Homebuilders have been preparing for years to meet a proposed
requirement that all new homes be “net-zero,” meaning they
would produce enough solar power to offset all electricity and
natural gas consumed over the course of a year.

Provisions adopted Wednesday relaxed that goal a bit, requiring
new homes only offset electricity used but not natural gas.

To meet net-zero energy goals, a typical house would need the
capacity to produce 7 or 8 kilowatts of electricity, which
wouldn’t be cost-effective, Raymer told the commission. But a
modest amount of solar — producing about 3 kilowatts of power —
would be cost-effective in all of California’s 16 climate
zones.

In addition to the solar mandate, the new provisions tighten
green homebuilding standards, with such requirements as thicker
attic and wall insulation, more efficient windows and doors and
improved ventilation systems. They also encourage developers to add
battery storage and
heat-pump water heaters
to new homes.

But the heart of the update is the solar power requirement,
which applies to all new residential buildings up to three stories
high, including apartments. The code allows some exceptions, such
as when the structures are in shady areas or when electricity rates
already are lower than the cost of generating solar power.

The rules also allow for offsite solar production, so
developments can build solar arrays feeding multiple homes or
contract with utility-owned solar farms.

“We have lots of options,” said Raymer, the building
industry’s technical director.

Hundreds of letters, most of them form letters, poured into the
capital opposing the solar mandate.

The solar mandate “will be costly to homeowners in California
and also eliminates personal choice,” said a letter signed by
Butte County Treasurer-Tax Collector Peggy Moak. Moak said the tab
for installing solar panels is a lot higher than the $8,400
estimate, “running more than $25,000.”

“With median home prices in California already more than
double the national average, this decision will make it even more
difficult for the average Californian to afford a home,” added a
letter signed by Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City.

Several solar industry representatives speaking Wednesday
supported the provisions, including a representative of Tesla,
which builds battery storage systems for homes.

“The homeowners will be able to save money from the day they
walk in the door,” said Kelly Knutsen, technology advancement
director for the California Solar & Storage Association.
“This is a historical policy. California is leading the country
in clean energy, clean air and fighting climate change, all while
saving consumers money.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
California officially becomes first in nation mandating solar power for new homes