Will More States Mandate Solar?

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Following California’s historic decision to require solar installation for all new homes and low-rise apartments, officials look to see which other states may follow in their footsteps.

The California Energy Commission unanimously adopted Wednesday the 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, rules that require solar panels be included on all new homes and apartment buildings up to three stories high. The sweeping mandate will go into effect January 2020, with exceptions granted to homes blocked by shade or that make use of other renewable energy programs. (RELATED: California Will Force EVERY New Home Owner To Install Solar Panels)

The commission’s decision was widely anticipated, where discussions regarding such a mandate had been in the works for years. The requirement — the first of its kind in the U.S. — also further cements California’s status as the most ambitious purveyor of climate change regulation. Outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown has pushed for an ambitious renewable portfolio standard that aims to reach 33 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030. In fact, the Democratic governor believes his state can reach a 100 percent renewable energy mix before 2050.

California, a deeply liberal enclave, has served as a leader for other blue states when it comes to enacting environmentally friendly legislation and fighting the Trump administration’s deregulation agenda. Members of the California Energy Commission, in fact, discussed the importance of becoming the first to enact the mandate before their vote. Now with the solar energy bar indubitably raised, there is open speculation if the move will create a domino effect among progressive states.

“[W]e reiterate that finalization of this mandate could spur some proposals from legislators in other green-leaning states (Massachusetts and New Jersey comes first to mind), but we are skeptical such proposals would advance at the same fast pace as California’s,” read a Wednesday analysis from ClerView Energy Partners, a D.C.-based research firm. “In short, the new home solar mandate could be the first data point in a potential, but not necessarily fast-moving national energy policy trend.”

No other solar installation mandate appears to be imminent, however, there are clear indications that those two states are working toward boosting their renewable energy standards. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican striving to make renewable energy account for 50 percent of his state’s total electricity supply, has pushed for a hydroelectric power project and offshore wind to get there. (RELATED: Environmentalists Are Protesting A Clean Power Project)

“The Commonwealth continues to be a national leader in solar with more than 2,108 megawatts of installed capacity and installed solar in every community in Massachusetts. In addition we are moving forward with the largest procurement of renewable resources in state history,” said Jessica Ridlen in a Friday statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. Ridlen is a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. “By investing in emerging technologies, the Commonwealth continues to fortify our efforts to stabilize the cost of energy for ratepayers, saving them money while achieving ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals. Our upcoming solar incentive program is poised to nearly double the amount currently installed at reduced costs.”

For their part, the New Jersey legislature passed a massive subsidies bill in April to keep three nuclear reactors running — preserving a major source of low-emission energy production.

“The Murphy Administration is committed to its clean energy initiatives which include offshore wind and solar. These initiatives will enhance renewable and reliable energy for the citizens of our state and will benefit our children and grandchildren in the future. While we are fully supportive of offshore wind and solar there is no proposal before the Board such as that which was proposed in California,” said Peter Peretzman, a spokesman for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, in a Thursday statement to TheDCNF.

California will likely serve as a guinea pig for other states mulling whether to follow suit. Environmentalists and the solar energy lobby have hailed the commission’s vote. Yet, critics have pointed to issues such a sweeping mandate creates.

Housing costs in the state are expected to rise as much as $25,000 to $30,000. Furthermore, other energy-saving regulation included in the commission’s ruling will tack on another $10,000 to $15,000. Such costly mandates could scare away legislators concerned about housing affordability for low-income earners.

Analysts have also questioned the mandate’s effectiveness. A report by MIT Technology Review calculated the expensive solar installation rule will only reduce California’s carbon footprint by a minuscule fraction, reducing emissions by 1.4 million metric tons over three years. California produced 440 million tons of carbon emissions in 2015 alone.

“California’s new solar roof mandate will make housing more expensive, increase electricity prices, and transfer wealth upwards,” wrote Michael Shellenberger, the president of Environmental Progress, in a Thursday Forbes article. “What it won’t do is significantly reduce carbon emissions.” 

Shellenberger, an environmental activist running for governor, is unique in that he doesn’t hesitate to criticize climate change policies that he deems costly and impractical. The rule will only worsen the slow-growing housing market and do essentially nothing to reduce carbon emissions, Shellenberger argued in his response to California’s mandate.

“At the current rate California is adding homes, it would take over 100 years of solar roof-building to replace just the clean energy produced by the state’s two nuclear plants,” Shellenberger said.

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