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California officially becomes first state to require solar panels on new homes starting in 2020

The California became the first state in the U.S. to require solar panels on all new homes up to three stories tall. The mandate will take effect Jan. 1, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California officially became the first state in the U.S. to require solar panels on all new homes up to three stories tall Wednesday. As expected, the five-person California Energy Commission passed the mandate, which includes apartment buildings and condominiums.

The mandate will take effect Jan. 1, 2020, and doesn't require approval by the California Public Utilities Commission or the Legislature.

Also, the commission updated the state's building codes to include stricter efficiency standards on lighting, ventilation, windows, walls, and attics for residential and non-residential buildings.

Are there exceptions?

Exceptions or alternatives would be made for homes that are shaded by trees or taller buildings or for houses too small for a solar panel system.

Why did the commission pass the rule?

The commission estimates the new rule will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 metric tons over a three-year period.

“The case for this was extremely strong,” CEC Commissioner Andrew McAllister, who led the push, said. “[In] California, we do believe in climate change, we do believe in facts … It’s become clear to all of us it’s the right thing to do and that the marketplace is ready.”

How much will it cost?

Adding solar panels to a newly constructed house could cost homebuyers about $10,500, but it all depends on the size and location of the home, according to CEC.

Some estimates show an average added cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

It also estimated that solar will save just over $16,000 in energy bills over the life of a home.

What about affordable housing?

Adding to the cost of new homes doesn't address the issue of affordable housing in California.

“And no matter how you slice it, this increases the cost of housing and exacerbates the affordable housing problem," said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at Reason Foundation. "It seems like a feel-good measure that doesn’t think through all the consequences.”

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