I have to confess that I’m in two minds about this development:
While there was little doubt it would happen, it’s now a done deal: California will require solar panels on most new homes. Officials at a December 5th Building Standards Commission meeting have voted for the new code, providing the last bit of approval necessary for the policy to take effect. New homes, condos and low-rise apartments will need eco-friendly power generation on their rooftops from January 1st, 2020 onward. The only exclusions are for homes that are either blocked by taller objects (like trees and tall buildings) or don’t have room for panels.
The building code is the first of its kind in the US, and may serve as a bellwether for the rest of the country. Critics are concerned this will further raise housing prices in a state where they’re already a sore point and might only offer limited energy savings. Proponents, however, estimate the technology could ultimately save homeowners money (as much as $60,000 over a 25-year lifespan). It could also lower the overall strain on the electrical grid, especially at peak hours.
I know, I know, it’s Loony California doing its little Totalitarian Green Thing and imposing unnecessary costs on homeowners (just the latest in a long, LONG line thereof). But let’s take off the political filters for a moment and look at what’s involved.
Let’s say that for the average new home, this will add about $15,000 to the construction cost — which given the typical construction costs in CA, means about a 3% – 4% increase in cost per square foot. We all know that initial building costs are generally far cheaper than retrofitting, so it makes sense to add the installation up front. (In an ideal world, the state would offer some form of tax rebate to lessen the cost, but this is California, which last offered a consumer tax rebate in… okay, they’ve never offered a tax rebate.) So unless I’ve made a huge mistake in my calculations (and feel free to do your own), the impact on the homeowner will be quite bearable.
Now let’s look at the benefits.
I’ll start off by calling bullshit on the quoted savings, because they didn’t include maintenance / replacement in the cost, and in any event, nobody stays in a house for 25 years anymore, so no, homeowners will not see sixty grand cut off their electrical bills. I’d also suggest that initially at least, the supply of solar panels would not keep up with the demand and instead of (say) $15,000 per household installation, the cost would balloon alarmingly, making nonsense of all the potential “savings” put forward.
But all that said, let’s consider this question: is making the individual home less dependent on centrally-supplied electrical power such a Bad Thing? It might make rolling brownouts and blackouts (pardon the inadvertent racism /sarc) a thing of the past, and lessen Californians’ exposure to damage caused by natural disaster: earthquakes, mudslides etc. — not as the latter whack the houses, but in case the utilities’ properties and distribution networks are affected thereby.
And yes I know: what works in sunny Southern California will not work in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but the chances of Michigan passing such legislation are negligible anyway. (It might become mandatory in New York State, but that would serve the NY voters right for electing those watermelon politicians into power anyway.)
Here’s how I see it. The whole beauty of a federal republic, to paraphrase the Founding Fathers, is to let individual states be “laboratories” so that stuff like mandatory solar power collection and welfare reform can be tested in microcosm, and what works can then be rolled out through other states as they see fit.
And while I would support the hypothesis that while generally speaking, the proper course of action is to do the polar opposite of what California is doing, this might be one of the very few exceptions.