California becomes first state to require solar panels on new homes

The California Energy Commission Wednesday approved a mandate requiring solar panels on all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings starting in 2020.

But Republican legislative leaders argue Californians can't afford to pay any more for housing in the state's already extremely expensive market.

Nine percent of single-family detached homes in the state of 39.5 million people now have solar panels, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Energy report the Energy Commission cited.

California law requires that at least half of the state's electricity come from non-carbon-producing sources by 2030.

It will save homeowners about $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over 30 years, Energy Commission spokeswoman Amber Pasricha Beck told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Other cities like New Jersey and Minnesota also have convinced with the use of solar panels, but have not received much success as compared to the mandate of San Francisco.

Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Law, said the new rule would lower the price of solar panels nationwide as manufacturers tapped into California's huge consumer base. Some builders say the costs could be more than twice that.

"On the one hand, we would prefer that this had been put off for a few more years, but the fact is that the California Energy Commission has been working on this, with us, for the past 10 years", he said. For comparison, California added 858 megawatts of residential solar previous year from 127,000 new residential solar systems.

This poses a problem for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, which aims to provide more affordable housing to people in need. Community-shared solar generation equipment will also be an option. 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.

"Other states may not be ready for this step yet", she said.

In 2007, the state set out to reach a zero net energy standard for all homes by 2020. The policy approved by the CEC today helps to achieve that goal, but doesn't get all the way there, said Rachel Golden, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club.

But the researchers noted a bright spot - the state's greenhouse gas emissions are declining, despite a growing population.

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