As expected, the California Energy Commission (CEC) passed a first-in-the nation rule Wednesday, mandating that all new homes constructed in the state will be equipped with solar panels.
"This is a landmark vote today," said David Hochschild, one of CEC's five commissioners who unanimously approved the measure that was part of a revision to California's Building Efficiency Standards, which are updated every three years.
The rule will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and does not need to be approved by the Legislature or the California Public Utilities Commission.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems will be installed on every house that receives a building permit, as well as condominiums and apartments up to three stories high. Homes that are shaded by trees or taller buildings, as well as houses with roofs too small to accommodate a PV system, would be eligible for exceptions or alternatives to the mandate.
The updated building code also includes stricter efficiency standards on lighting, ventilation, windows, walls and attics for non-residential as well as residential structures.
"The case for this was extremely strong," said Andrew McAllister, the commissioner who took the lead at the CEC in putting together the rule with input from builders as well as environmental groups. "(In) California, we do believe in climate change, we do believe in facts ... ... It's become clear to all of us it's the right thing to do and that the marketplace is ready."
According to CEC estimates, the new standards will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 metric tons during the three-year cycle of the standards, equivalent to taking 115,000 gasoline cars off the road.
The commission also expects that by the first year of implementation, statewide annual electricity consumption will be cut by about 653 gigawatt-hours and natural gas consumption reduced by 9.8 million therms.
The new mandate will add thousands of dollars to the cost of new construction but the CEC said homebuyers will save money in the long run on their energy bill.
The average cost of constructing a single-family house was estimated to go up by $10,538 – although solar contractors in the San Diego area put the costs of a solar installation at about $20,000, depending on the size of the home.
The CEC estimated the savings to come, on average, to $16,251 over the life of a home.
Based on a 30-year mortgage, the commission estimates the standards will add about $40 to an average monthly payment, but save consumers $80 on monthly heating, cooling and lighting bills.