[OPINION] In defense of requiring solar on all new homes

By Court Rich | Senior Partner/Director Rose Law Group Renewable Energy Dept.

Last Wednesday, the California Energy Commission implemented a requirement that all new homes constructed after January 1, 2020, include rooftop solar. This requirement builds upon previous state codes that, like many jurisdictions across the country, already required every new home to have a “solar-ready roof” to accommodate future solar installation.

As a solar advocate who also happens to be a Republican resident of Arizona, California’s new standard leaves me yet again defending a pro-solar policy against my friends’ reflexive guffaws. The initial negative reactions I have heard in my circles boil down to two arguments.

The first argument is baseless, yet effective among those Arizonans who wish to not really think. That argument goes something like this: California! The second -and more thoughtful- argument is that requiring rooftop solar is an example of government overreach that increases home costs. As a political conservative, the second argument is one I have been pondering.

I lean libertarian, but I don’t lean so far as to reject building codes altogether. At their core, building codes put in place minimum standards for design, quality, and safety that society expects. There are wide-ranging standards routinely requiring; special insulation in the walls; handrails on staircases; flow rates for plumbing fixtures; standards for ventilation in the bathroom; certain types of paint; specific building materials; minimum ceiling heights, and on and on and on.

The overwhelming majority of building code requirements increase home prices even if they lower the overall operation and maintenance costs over time. As a result, I reject that the mere fact that “it will increase the cost of a home” is a valid objection to the new solar requirement.”.

There is a socialist cousin of the “it will cost more” objection, and it goes like this: Government backed monopoly utilities use economies of scale to build utility scale solar cheaper than you can build rooftop solar so we should stymie, not encourage, rooftop solar. This is the type of logic espoused by people that use the word “proletariat” and don’t mind breadlines.

Even if the dubious claim the government can do this cheaper were true, in America we do not have the government do things based on the fact that it has more buying power than the individual. The fact that California just empowered individuals rather than making them further beholden to government-protected monopoly utilities might be the most un-California thing about this action. Even conservative Arizona has been unwilling to strongly back individual customers when compared to the constant strong support for government-protected monopoly utilities.

Since having a cost component is not unique among building code requirements, is there something that is special about rooftop solar that leads to the conclusion that it shouldn’t be in a building code? Energy efficiency measures are routinely included in building codes to minimize energy expenses and to avoid wasteful energy usage. The carbon footprint and energy bills of a home with rooftop solar are lower than homes without rooftop solar. If it is appropriate for a building code to require upgraded insulation, high efficiency lighting, high efficiency heat pumps, and more, rooftop solar is no stretch. It is worth noting the new requirement makes reasonable exceptions for homes located in areas where sunlight is shaded while also encouraging the implementation of beneficial energy storage. It is the proliferation of energy storage that is going to solve any problems that too much daytime energy generation might cause by the way.

To those reacting as if California just went all, well, California on us. Relax, it’s not like the Golden State just required each home to have an organic garden and an extra bedroom dedicated to housing a homeless immigrant. No, the state merely updated its building standards to require another means of lowering energy usage, cleaning the environment, and reducing operating costs for homeowners.

I expect and encourage other states to follow suit.