California May Mandate Solar Panels on All New Homes

Published June 21, 2018

California may soon become the first state to mandate solar panels be installed on all new homes, apartments, and condominiums.

The California Energy Commission passed a building code regulation requiring all homes constructed in 2020 or later to have solar panels on their roofs, by a unanimous vote on May 9. The regulation must be approved by the California Building Standards Commission next year in order to become part of the state building code.

Commission spokeswoman Amber Beck says the building commission typically enacts all Energy Commission recommendations without revision. In California, no legislative review of proposed building code regulations is required.

In addition to the solar mandate, the commission adopted rules requiring enhanced insulation in the walls and attics of new homes, and more efficient windows, water heaters, and other appliances.

Increasing Housing Prices

California’s home prices are among the highest in the nation. The median price of a residence in California is more than 200 percent higher than the U.S. average.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 138,000 residents left the Golden State in the 12 months ending July 2017, in favor of states such as Nevada and Texas, which have lower housing prices. Since 2006, a million more people have moved out of California than moved in.

In a recent USC Dornsife/LA Times poll, Californians cited the state’s high cost of living, including housing costs and availability, as the most pressing issue facing the state. Californians cited housing costs as a primary reason for relocating within the state or moving out of state.

The California Building Industry Association estimates the solar mandate will add between $8,400 and $12,400 to the cost of a new-built home in California, depending upon where in the state it is located.

Bureaucrats vs. Buyers

Tim Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says homeowners, not bureaucrats, should determine whether solar panels should be installed on their homes.

“If California families thought rooftop solar installations were such a great deal for them, they would already install them on their own, and if builders believed there were such a clamor for them, they would be part of their building strategy,” Benson said. “Instead, an industry that cannot survive without federal subsidies and state mandates just lobbied its way to a guaranteed market for its expensive, inefficient, and intermittent product.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the next step in California is to require a solar installation on your person,” said Benson.

Julian Morris, vice president of research at the Reason Foundation, says solar panels are probably not cost-effective.

“If people want to have solar panels on their homes, they should be free to make such decisions,” said Morris. “By mandating solar panels on homes, California is forcing consumers to buy more expensive homes, with little reduction to their energy bills.

“The anticipated reduction in energy bills is likely to be significantly less than the increase in home costs,” Morris said.

‘Government Picking Winners’

Kerry Jackson, a fellow with the Pacific Research Institute’s Center for California Reform, says the solar mandate is nothing more than crony capitalism.

“The California solar homes mandate is another example of a state government picking winners and losers,” said Jackson. “Business interests that bank on nontraditional energy sources, such as Tesla—which now owns Solar City and does well thanks to favorable government policies like these—stand to do even better under this new solar requirement.”

Jackson says the solar requirement will only aggravate California’s skyrocketing housing costs.

“This rule is more of what California doesn’t need, a new mandate that will soon force home prices even higher,” Jackson said. “What it does need are more homes, and a lot of them, to relieve the housing shortage and deflate swollen prices.”

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is an editorial assistant for The Heartland Institute.