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California Becomes the First State to Require Solar Panels on New Houses



By Laura Goldman

January 2, 2019 - While the Trump administration seems determined to expedite climate change by supporting the pollution-creating coal and oil industries, the state of California has taken a historic first step to help improve the environment.

Beginning in 2020, new houses built in the state will be required to have solar panels. These provisions, supported by environmentalists as well as homebuilders, “will be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” Kent Sasaki, a structural engineer and member of the state Building Standards Commission, told Mercury News.

The California Energy Commission, which has been trying for over a decade move the state to cleaner alternatives, voted in May to require that new homes have solar panel installations as part of the state’s Green Building Standards Code. Seven months later, the Building Standards Commission unanimously approved this landmark decision.

Although installing solar panels will add about $10,000 to the cost of building a house, the lower utility bills would offset the cost. Homeowners would save $19,000 over 30 years, Drew Bohan, executive director of the California Energy Commission, told Mercury News. As an alternative to paying for the panels, homeowners will also have the option of leasing the panels or signing a power purchase agreement with developers.

The new requirement is a win-win for the environment as well as homeowners’ wallets. “This is not only the right thing to do for the climate, it is financially smart,” Pierre Delforge, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Mercury News. Kelly Knutsen, technology advancement director for the California Solar & Storage Association, said, “California is leading the country in clean energy, clean air and fighting climate change, all while saving consumers money.”

The construction industry also supports the new requirement. “This adoption of these standards represents a quantum leap,” Bob Raymer, senior engineer for the California Building Industry Association, said during a California Energy Commission meeting in May, the New York Times reports. “You can bet every state will be watching to see what happens.”

The solar panel requirement will apply to all new residential buildings up to three stories high, including apartments. It also allows the offsite production of solar energy, such as solar farms or solar arrays that supply power to multiple homes. New homes in shady areas or where electricity rates are lower than the cost to generate solar power will be exempted from the requirement.

Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. are also considering solar power requirements for new buildings, the New York Times reports. Hawaii now requires all new single-family dwellings to have solar water heaters.


California wants to achieve 100-percent clean electrical power by 2045. It’s making good progress toward that ambitious goal: the state is already almost a third of the way there.