BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — For years now, many Californians have made the choice to add solar panels to their roofs to combat climate change and maybe save money in the process. But for new home buyers, that choice is about to become a requirement.

After years of offering financial incentives to entice homeowners to choose solar, on Jan. 1, new state building codes go into effect that will require any new home constructed in the state to include solar collection panels.

“Man, that’s…that’s…that’s game changing!” said Antioch resident Darrell Williams, who was hearing about it for the first time on Monday.

The new rules were actually approved by the legislature and former California Governor Jerry Brown in 2018  and developers have been preparing for it as the Golden State becomes the first to mandate solar.

At Sun First, a solar dealer in San Rafael, energy analyst Wyn Hoag says as solar rebates begin to diminish, the new rules will carry the industry forward.

“It is a really big step, yeah,” he said. “And it’s having ripples in the real estate market now, because some people are saying, well, we can’t afford to have housing that’s another $20-30,000 dollars more. But the fact is it pays for itself,” Hoag said.

That’s true, but only because the technology has been heavily subsidized by the state–from purchase rebates to “net-metering” rules that require electric utilities to buy excess power at a premium rate.

But at the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School Of Business‎, Severin Borenstein says rooftop solar is less efficient and vastly more expensive than capturing energy at large, off-site solar “farms.” But, so far, the new mandate does not allow builders to employ that option.

“This definitely tilts the business towards rooftop solar, which is the least efficient way to do solar,” Borenstein said. “And so I’m very concerned we’re going to raise the cost of going to a larger share of renewable energy by doing it in a much more costly way.”

The California Energy Commission estimates the new mandates will add about $9,500 to the price of an average house while saving roughly $19,000 in reduced energy bills over 30 years.

But that’s relying on savings from the current net metering rules.

Those could change if, in the future, a growing number of solar owners stop paying to maintain the electrical grid system. Borenstein believes the best way to get the public to embrace renewable energy is to keep it affordable.

But the state legislature has decided the time has come to press the issue and lead the nation into the future of solar-home construction, even if all the fine details haven’t exactly been worked out.

“We’re in this together,” said research scientist Nihar Shah. “So California’s doing something for everybody, basically. And so, we’ll figure it out together.”

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