California Solar Home Law Likely to Price Many Out of the Market

Published January 22, 2020

A new building code in California requires all newly constructed homes statewide to be solar-powered.

Tens of thousands of homes will be affected by the first-of-their-kind rules approved in 2018 by the California Energy Commission under Gov. Jerry Brown.

The new rules, which took effect January 1, do not apply to existing homes.

Expects More Homeless

This solar mandate will make it harder to buy a home in California, exacerbating the homeless crisis the state already faces, says Lawrence J. McQuillan, Ph.D., director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent Institute.

“California is the first state to force new home owners to buy solar panels, a requirement that will likely add $10,000 to $30,000 to the cost of a new home,” McQuillan said. “The solar panel mandate will price more low- and middle-income families out of California’s housing market, robbing them of the American Dream.

“Sadly, some people will find themselves homeless as a result, as housing prices continue to surge even at the lower rungs of the housing ladder,” McQuillan said.

California’s homelessness problem is already creating a public health emergency, with needles and human feces littering city sidewalks, McQuillan says.

“Action must be taken to fix this problem before diseases spread throughout California’s urban areas,” McQuillan said. “Public spaces do have public purposes, which does not include homeless encampments. Preserving these public spaces for public purposes through enforcement is acceptable.

“However, I think we need to be cautious about how much we embolden or empower government bureaucrats to ‘fix the homelessness problem,'” McQuillan said. “A better long-term solution would involve extending private property rights throughout cities as much as possible so private citizens have more control over trespassing and vagrancy enforcement actions than they do today.”

Power Volatility, Blackouts

In addition to raising the cost of housing, the solar homes requirement also undermines the reliability of the state’s electric power supply, says John Charles, president of the Cascade Policy Institute.

“First, the solar mandate increases the cost of new home construction, in a state suffering from a persistent housing shortage,” Charles said. “Second, California already has a problem of midday overproduction of energy from solar facilities, which drops to zero at sundown.

“This rollercoaster pattern dramatically increases volatility, creating the conditions for power blackouts,” Charles said. “Mandatory rooftop solar also forces consumers to pay for two power systems: the randomly failing solar generators and the traditional sources such as natural gas, nuclear, and coal that provide reliable energy throughout the day.”

Charles says this policy is a prime example of what not to do in setting energy policy.

“This duplication is unlikely to save ratepayers money in the long run,” Charles said. “California politicians are desperate to be leaders in energy policy, but in this case they are showing other states what not to do.”

More Emissions, Less Housing

The solar homes mandate is an ineffective means of achieving the purported goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, says Wayne Winegarden, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute (PRI).

“Since greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States peaked in 2007, California’s decline in emissions has lagged behind the national average,” Winegarden said. “This performance is even worse once the global and life-cycle impacts from California’s policy choices are considered.

“The solar panel mandate represents more of the same from California, which will likely impose a heavy economic cost on the state while not producing a larger decline in GHG emissions compared to other states,” Winegarden said.

California, with the nation’s largest homeless population, should be implementing policies to make it easier for people to afford places to live, instead of making housing less affordable, Winegarden says.

“The solar panel mandate increases the costs of homes and therefore worsens the homelessness crisis by making it more difficult for the current homeless to obtain an affordable place to live,” Winegarden said. “Additionally, the higher costs will push more families to the edge, threatening to throw more people on to the streets.

“Given the state’s goal of increasing the amount of affordable housing, additional costly mandates are unconscionable,” Winegarden said. “The homelessness crisis should encourage self-reflection among California’s political class, but instead of asking, ‘How have our policies created this crisis?’ politicians in Sacramento continue to double down on the same big-government approach that caused the state’s affordable-housing problems.”

Nanny State Policies

The solar requirement is one of many misguided paternalistic policies imposed by big government, Winegarden says.

“This mandate is another example of the ‘government needs to do something for our own good’ approach by politicians in Sacramento who are sure solar technology is the answer for reducing GHG emissions, that the costs for the technology are coming down, that the technology is appropriate everywhere, and the quality of the product is going up,” Winegarden said.

“None of these are certain, and while possibly correct, there is stronger evidence all of these suppositions are wrong,” Winegarden said.

California’s solar panel mandate will do a lot of harm for a very long time, Winegarden says.

“The solar mandate will consequently force an action on all Californians that will very likely be inappropriate, costly, and ineffective,” said Winegarden. “Further, these costs harm people and, because the government has mandated only one solution and changing that solution would likely take a very long time, these harms will persist for a long time.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.