California is requiring solar panels on all new houses: here’s what that means More expensive houses for now, but maybe cheaper in the long run

California has become the first state to require that new homes be built with solar panels. The rules go into place in 2020 and are part of the state’s ambitious efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But these requirements also make it more expensive to build in a state where housing is already extremely expensive.

The new building rules approved by the California Energy Commission apply to all residential buildings up to three stories high (including both single-family buildings and condos). They’ll no doubt help California reach its goal of having at least half of electricity come from renewable energy by 2030. Solar is already responsible for about 16 percent of California electricity.

But the new regulations mean that houses will be $8,000 to $12,000 more expensive, according to The New York Times. That’s especially fraught in a state where the median price of a single-family home is nearly $565,000, according the California Association of Realtors. Habitat for Humanity development director Laine Himmelmann told CNN affiliate KRCA that the regulations would require the nonprofit to raise $80,000 to $100,000 more a year in donations. (And, two years ago, Vox’s Brad Plumer argued that boosting housing density would be even more green than requiring solar panels.)

For residents, at least, the raise could even out in the long run, Energy Commission spokeswoman Amber Beck told the Los Angeles Times. Though buyers could see their monthly mortgage go up by $40, their utility bills would fall by $80. Over time, a family would save $19,000 of today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation, over 30 years, according to Beck.

California is already the nation’s leader when it comes to solar energy, thanks to friendly public policy and plenty of sun. Last year, it released a report that outlined its climate change goals: these included reducing greenhouse gases by 40 percent from 1990 levels, by the year 2030. “This is another step forward and acknowledges that this should be the standard for a sustainable home,” says Anne Hoskins, chief policy officer of Sunrun, the nation’s largest residential solar installation company.

Hoskins noted that, though California remains the company’s largest customer, in recent years the company has expanded into states like Wisconsin and Illinois. “Are we expecting that every state is going to require the same of all new homes immediately? No,” she says. “But I think with this example from California, policymakers across the country can see that these new homes can be efficient and cost-effective, so it’s going to be an example that will be used as a model in other states.”

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