California will still require rooftop solar panels on new homes — at least for now
State officials declined Wednesday to approve a program that would allow new homes to be built in Sacramento without rooftop solar panels — handing at least a temporary victory to clean energy advocates, who said the program would cripple California’s first-in-the-nation home solar mandate.
The California Energy Commission postponed a decision on a controversial proposal from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District after hearing from dozens of solar industry representatives, environmental activists and utility ratepayers. Under SMUD’s proposal, home builders would be allowed to take credit for electricity produced at existing solar farms, rather than installing solar panels on new single-family homes and low-rise multifamily buildings.
Building industry officials urged approval of the program, saying it would help keep California’s already-high housing prices from rising even further.
But critics said it would undermine California’s home solar mandate, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020. They said approval of the program would set a precedent that could be followed by other utilities, such as Pacific Gas & Electric, which submitted a letter this week supporting SMUD’s proposal.
“Last year, California told the world it was requiring rooftop solar on new homes,” Don Osborn, president of the Elk Grove, Calif.-based solar installer Spectrum Energy, told the commission. “It would be an embarrassment to the state and a setback for clean energy if you let this through on technicalities.”
When the Energy Commission approved the requirement for solar panels on new homes, it also gave builders the option of supplying power from an off-site “community solar” facility. The alternate compliance option mollified critics who said rooftop solar would price some home buyers out of the market.