Jumping out ahead of the rest of the country, California on Wednesday moved to require solar panels on all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings starting in 2020, the AP reports. The new building standard—unanimously approved by the five-member California Energy Commission—would be the first such statewide mandate in the nation. It represents the state's latest step to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Robert Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, called it a "quantum leap." The commission endorsed the requirement after representatives of builders, utilities and solar manufacturers voiced support. It needs final approval from California's Building Standards Commission, which typically adopts the energy panel's recommendations when updating the state's building codes.
Adding solar panels would boost construction costs by $9,500 for a single-family home but save owners about $19,000 in energy and other expenses over 30 years, the Energy Commission estimated. The price of solar has dropped dramatically in recent years. The minimum amount of solar power required by the new standards wouldn't be enough to meet all the needs of most homes. They would still have to draw some of their electricity from the power grid. Republican legislative leaders argue Californians cannot afford to pay any more for housing in what is already an extremely expensive market. "That's just going to drive the cost up and make California, once again, not affordable to live," Assemblyman Brian Dahle, the chamber's GOP leader, said Tuesday. The regulations include exceptions for when solar panels aren't cost-effective or feasible, and community-shared solar generation equipment will also be an option.