California has become the first state to mandate all new homes have sufficient solar panels to power them with solar energy.
The California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) voted unanimously to add standards approved last May by the California Energy Commission to the state’s building code.
The new mandate applies to all homes built in the state starting in 2020.
Will Increase House Prices
The state’s energy and housing regulators estimate the mandate, approved on December 5, will increase the cost of building a single-family home by $10,000: about $8,400 to add solar power and about $1,500 for making each dwelling more energy-efficient. The regulators claim the additional upfront costs will be offset through lower utility bills over the 30-year lifespan of the solar panels.
Opponents of the rule, including state and county officials, sent hundreds of letters to the capital opposing the solar mandate, saying it eliminates a personal freedom and will cost far more than regulators have claimed.
Butte County Treasurer-Tax Collector Peggy Moak signed a letter stating the tab for installing solar panels could run to more than $25,000 per home, far above the regulators’ $8,400 estimate.
State Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) signed a letter stating the solar mandate will make it even more difficult for people to afford homes in California, where the median home price is already more than double the national average.
‘Impossible to Enforce’
The solar mandate will fail to meet the stated goal of operating new homes 100 percent on solar power, says Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.
“It is with great glee I watch California enact legislation which will be impossible to enforce and will infuriate those desiring a new home there,” Lehr said. “Although every new home may have solar panels installed, it does not mean they will operate solely on solar power, since it is generally impossible to power an entire home with solar power in most places within the United States, and California is no exception.
“It is great to have California be the failed guinea pig to teach the rest of the nation the complete absurdity of pushing individuals and geographic areas into an energy source that is physically impossible to deliver on its sellers’ promises,” Lehr said. “The year 2020 will be an exciting time as the nation watches California crash and burn.”
Lehr says he hopes one day the rest of the nation will wake up to the fact their taxes are funding half or more of the costs of the installation of solar panels in California.
“Perhaps after the public realizes how much of the tab they are picking up for relatively wealthy Californians to install solar panels on their homes, soon after that the solar lobby will lose the clout it currently has with Congress, and then hopefully they will also lose their unwarranted subsidies,” Lehr said.
‘No Precedent for This’
Environmental activists pressured California’s legislature and the CBSC to push solar power, and critical details of the plan remain unknown, says William F. Shughart, research director with the Independent Institute.
“I think there is a lot of pressure from environmentalists to ween the state off of fossil fuels and also oppose replacing coal-fired or natural gas-fired plants with nuclear facilities,” Shughart said. “There is no precedent for this action, and there are a lot of unknowns concerning how the state’s new solar mandate will operate.”
The monetary benefits of solar power sent to the electricity grid will be unevenly distributed, Shughart says, which will cause conflict.
“For instance, it is unclear how public utilities will reimburse solar panel owners for the electricity they supply to the grid,” said Shughart. “Suppliers in some areas are reimbursed at wholesale electric rates and some are reimbursed at retail rates, so the distribution of the benefits between the homeowner and the grid depends upon the rate at which the homeowner is reimbursed.
“For utilities, reimbursing at the wholesale rate is better than the retail rate, but for homeowners with solar panels it’s just the opposite,” Shughart said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions about the distributional effects of the policy.”
Unpredictable Grid Effects
How the grid will operate with additional solar power under California’s electric power mandates and restrictions remains to be seen, Shughart says.
“You can’t store sunlight power, so it can’t be used for providing baseline power to all the utilities’ customers,” said Shughart. “So you still need natural gas or nuclear or even coal to supply baseline power, and under the current regulatory regime in California and those of the states that ship power into California, it is unclear how much power these solar panels are going to generate over and above the electricity used at home to provide surplus power for the grid other people are going to need.
“It’s also not clear legislators or regulators understand with solar you can’t store any power you don’t use, but instead have to provide it to the grid,” Shughart said.
Power of Choice of Power
Instead of mandating particular power sources, governments should allow the people to make their own choices through energy markets, Shughart says.
“The government doesn’t know the best option for power,” said Shughart. “Energy markets can best determine the most cost-effective way for people to power their own homes, appliances, heating and cooling, etc.
“The California legislature thinks it can mandate its way to a fossil-fuel-free system, but right now natural gas is the best and cheapest way of generating energy,” Shughart said.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.