On Wednesday May 9th, the California Energy Commission approved a set of standards that will require most new homes built in the state after 2020 to include solar panels on their roofs. This standard was introduced to move California closer to a long-held goal of creating “zero net-energy” buildings, which generate as much electricity as they use over the course of a year.

The standards (PDF) apply only to single-family homes and certain low-rise condos, townhomes, and apartments. To environmentalists, the move is an important step to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. California law calls for cutting the state’s total carbon emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Of course, adding a solar requirement to new homes will increase the upfront cost of a new home in a state where cost of purchasing a house is already too high for many potential homebuyers. The California Energy Commission has estimated that the increased cost will average to over $10,500 per home. The extra expense would hit at a time when California is suffering a severe and deepening housing affordability crisis. Proponents of the new regulation say that the reduced utility costs generated by the solar power will lead to the panels paying for themselves over the course of a mortgage. However it’s the high upfront cost of building or buying the home that deters buyers and this new requirement does not improve that situation.

Obviously, not everyone is pleased with this mandate. Bill Watt, a homebuilder and design consultant, said those added costs – on top of other building mandates like fire sprinklers – are pushing home prices further out of reach for many buyers.

“We’re not building enough housing already,” said Watt, “Why not just pause for a little while, focus on the affordability and housing issues, then circle back?”

The California housing crisis is nothing new and legislators have been grappling with the issue for years. In fact, the upcoming ballot in November may have as many has five additional ballot measures in regards to affordable housing including rent control and low income subsidies.

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