California weighs solar-panel mandate

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California on Wednesday became the first state in the United States (US) to require solar panels on all new residential buildings as part of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy commission spokeswoman Amber Beck estimated the solar mandate would add an average of $9,500 in construction costs over the 2016 building code, but would save the homebuyer an estimated $19,000 in utility bills over the life of a 30-year mortgage. The standards also include requirements concerning ventilation and indoor air quality. It applies to single-family homes and multifamily homes with less than three stories built after 2020 with certain exceptions for buildings covered by shade. San Jose-based solar panel company SunPower said that the first of its kind solar rule will increase demand for residential solar power by 50%, as Bloomberg noted.

California is the nation's leading solar market, with more than 21 gigawatts of solar installed - five times more than any other state and almost 40 percent of the total solar installed in the U.S. The solar industry has created $43 billion of investment in California's economy and employs more than 86,000 Californians, a number that will grow under this new policy.

The requirement would not require homeowners' solar energy to offset energy consumed completely.

Currently, about a fifth of new homes come with solar panels, one business group estimates.

For more than a decade, the commission has been operating under goals that would provide "net-zero" energy for new residents by 2020 and for new commercial buildings a decade later.

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It's possible that with the new rule in place, the costs of solar could go down, and both panels and installations could get a lot cheaper.

In fact, the state itself generates so much solar and wind power that it must sometimes halt production at some facilities or give the electricity away to other states to avoid overloading the electric grid.

A key element in crafting the new standards was to ensure that the efficiency upgrade and solar systems would be affordable to all Californians.

Luxury home sellers saw only a 13 percent gain in value over comparable houses when listing solar energy as an amenity, the study found. After weighing the data, the CEC determined homeowners would save money on their energy bills to the tune of $40 per month.

While the step is significant, California has been preparing for the transition to solar energy for years, according to a spokeswoman for the state energy commission.

In the hot Bay Area real estate market, finding a home to fit a buyer's budget is the biggest issue, agents said.

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