California to Require Solar Energy by 2020


California has become the first state to require all new homes constructed to have solar power. The state’s five-member Energy Commission voted unanimously for the requirement this week marking a significant step forward in U.S. renewable-energy use.

Under the new rules, construction companies must build one of two options: either individual homes with solar panels, or a common solar-power system serving several homes. In the case of rooftop panels on individual homes, they can either be bought outright by the home buyer, by being included in the price of the home, or can be leased on a monthly basis.

The new regulations are expected to add significantly to the cost of new homes, adding between $8,000 and $12,000 to the cost of a home, on average. Those costs however, will be offset by energy-cost savings.

The California Energy Commission estimates the requirements will add about $40 to the average monthly mortgage payment. Customers will save however, $80 on monthly heating, cooling and lighting bills, they say.

California builds, on average, 80,000 new homes a year, 15,000 of which include solar capability. At California’s current rate of home building, the new regulations will increase the number of solar-capable homes by 44%.

The move was praised by renewable energy advocates.

“California has been a beacon for renewable energy policy for decades, and this historic decision on rooftop solar further cements the Golden State’s legacy as a solar powerhouse,” said Gil Jenkins, Vice President of Communications, American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), in a statement to ITN.

“We applaud the California Energy Commission for this monumental decision, which will further accelerate the pace for America’s transition to renewable energy. ACORE is optimistic that other leading solar states will look to follow California’s lead as the standards take effect,” he added.

The new regulations will go into effect in two years and will require solar-power systems to generate a minimum of 2 to 3 kilowatts of power, depending on the size of the home. California actually creates so much renewable energy, mainly through solar and wind, that it must halt production at times to avoid overloading the electrical grid. It’s forced to give electricity away to other states at times.

A downside to the renewable energy push, observers say, is that homeowners who move their energy purchasing to solar, leave families who can’t afford the change to foot the bill for maintaining the state’s electrical grid.

But the requirements were still hailed as momentous by the construction industry. “This adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap,” said Bob Raymer, senior engineer for the California Building Industry Association. “You can bet every state will be watching to see what happens.”

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