Solar panels will be part of new-home construction beginning in 2020. Last week, the California Energy Commission approved new building-efficiency standards that will require solar panels.

The commission expects the new standards will reduce energy consumption 53 percent for homes, the equivalent of 115,000 fewer gas-consuming cars on the streets. Energy consumption in nonresidential buildings is projected to decline 30 percent.

The commission also estimated the “… standards will increase the cost of constructing a new home by about $9,500 but will save $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over 30 years.

“Based on a 30-year mortgage, the Energy Commission estimates that the standards will add about $40 per month for the average home, but save consumers $80 per month on heating, cooling and lighting bills,” according to its reports.

The commission vote was unanimous, 5-0.

However, not all experts concurred with the commission’s action. In an opinion piece published in the Sacramento Bee, James Bushnell, director of the Energy Economics Program at the University of California, Davis, wrote, “These mandates eliminate consumer choice and assume it is the best solution for all homes everywhere, with limited exceptions. Not only is residential rooftop solar not the obvious best option for ‘green’ electricity, there is evidence that it is among the most expensive.”

His colleague at the institute, Severin Borenstein, wrote to the commission opposing the proposal and said, “I want to urge you not to adopt the standard. I, along with the vast majority of energy economists, believe that residential rooftop solar is a much more expensive way to move towards renewable energy than larger solar and wind installations.”

The new standards also address ventilation and nonresidential lighting requirements. The ventilation issues are intended to improve indoor air quality.

In the press release announcing the commission’s action, Commissioner Andrew McAllister, who is the Energy Commission’s lead on energy efficiency, said, “The buildings that Californians buy and live in will operate very efficiently while generating their own clean energy. They will cost less to operate, have healthy indoor air and provide a platform for ‘smart’ technologies that will propel the state even further down the road to a low emissions future.”

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