California expected to mandate solar panels for new homes

California is expected next week to mandate that most newly constructed homes include solar panels starting in 2020.

The California Energy Commission will vote on the new solar energy standard Wednesday, Southern California News Group reported.

“California is about to take a quantum leap in energy standards,” Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, told the newspaper. “No other state in the nation mandates solar, and we are about to take that leap.”

The proposed solar standards would add about $25,000 to $30,000 to the cost of home construction, said C.R. Herro, Meritage Homes' vice president of environmental affairs, according to the report.

But the cost should result in a savings of $50,000 to $60,000 over 25 years, he said.

California has previously imposed mandates, or attempted mandates, on auto emissions standards, retirement savings for private-sector workers, teaching gay history, water usage, vaccines, teen privacy and other issues.

The new solar mandate would apply to all houses, condos and apartment buildings up to three stories tall that obtain building permits after Jan. 1, 2020, the report said.

The mandate originated in 2007 when the state energy commission adopted the goal of making homebuilding so efficient that “newly constructed buildings can be net zero energy by 2020 for residences and by 2030 for commercial buildings,” SCNG reported.

But “new thinking” has made the net-zero goal obsolete, state officials told the news outlet.

“Zero net energy isn’t enough,” said Andrew McAllister, one of five state energy commissioners voting on the new homebuilding standards. “If we pursue (zero net energy) as a comprehensive policy, we’d be making investments that would be somewhat out of touch with our long-term goals.”

If the mandate is approved as expected, solar installations on new homes would also skyrocket, the report said. 

But the mandate has its critics.

Bill Watt, a former president of the Orange County Building Industry Association, said the added costs can put home prices further out of reach for many would-be buyers, the News Group reported.

“We’re not building enough housing already,” Watt said. “Why not just pause for a little while, focus on the affordability and housing issues, then circle back?”

Builders would prefer California move slower in imposing the solar mandate, but most nonetheless should be prepared by mid-2020, Raymer said.

On the contrary, environmentalists approve of the new standards.

“The technology is developing so fast, we think the timeline was a bit slow,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.

Pierre Delforge, energy efficiency program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the News Group that the proposed update was “another important step toward the environmentally-friendly, healthy and affordable home of the future.”

Texas, in contrast, is taking a free-market approach that former California state Assemblymember Chuck DeVore said is increasing the use of clean renewable energy as well lowering electricity bills.

DeVore is now a vice president with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. 

Amy Lieu is a news editor and reporter for Fox News.