California, land of the mandatory solar panels

Thinking of building or purchasing a newly constructed home in California? Even assuming you can somehow afford to own one in one of the most brutal real estate markets in the country, get ready for the cost to go up further. The state government is preparing to pass a new law which will mandate that every new house, condo or other building up to three stories high must have solar panels installed and comply with a “net-zero energy” profile. (This means that they have to produce enough of their own solar power to offset all electricity off the grid and natural gas consumed over the course of a year.)

Even more remarkably, they want everyone to be in compliance in under two years. What this will do to the California real estate market, particularly for aspiring, low-income homeowners remains a mystery. (OC Register)

California is on the verge of making solar standard on virtually every new home built in the Golden State.

The California Energy Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday, May 9, on new energy standards mandating most new homes have solar panels starting in 2020. If approved as expected, solar installations on new homes will skyrocket.

Just 15 percent to 20 percent of new single-family homes built include solar, according to Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association.

“California is about to take a quantum leap in energy standards,” Raymer said. “No other state in the nation mandates solar, and we are about to take that leap.”

Some people clearly like the idea of generating their own power from solar energy, assuming they can afford the upfront costs. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. If you live in a very sunny area you might be able to make your home largely self-sufficient. But that’s a choice for the individual buyer to make and the free market to react to accordingly. When the state steps in and mandates it for virtually every new home, somebody is about to make a lot of money. One representative of the California Solar and Storage Association (a solar energy lobbyist group) is quoted as complaining that the new rules still don’t go far enough.

So if you live in California and are looking to buy a newly constructed home, what does this mean to you? Even state representatives admit that the solar panels and other “net-zero” requirements will increase the construction costs of a single family home by $25,000 to $30,000. They insist that the solar energy can actually produce a net savings for the homeowner, but it will be at least a decade before most people reach the break-even point. The additional costs include more insulation, more efficient windows and other thermal containment features.

Officials are saying there are exceptions built into the mandate, but will they be enough? Not everyone lives in an area that gets sun for nearly the entire year. Some are in the shade of canyons and other natural structures, while others may be dwarfed by surrounding buildings. They’re never going to reach that net-zero goal. It also means that pretty much everyone will need to go to electric heating instead of other, environmentally friendly options like natural gas. Not everyone likes electric heat, particularly if it means you have to run a humidifier all the time.

This all adds up to yet more expensive government mandates which are going to make a handful of people very, very wealthy. Will the last person to leave California please turn off the lights? (Assuming, of course, you still have enough power to keep your lights on.)