California panel backs solar mandate for new buildings

By Ivan Penn

By Ivan Penn

New York Times

California regulators voted Wednesday to require builders to include solar power and battery storage in many new commercial structures as well as high-rise residential projects. It is the latest initiative in the state’s vigorous efforts to hasten a transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources.

The five-member California Energy Commission approved the proposal unanimously. It will now be taken up by the state’s Building Standards Commission, which is expected to include it in an overall revision of the building code in December.

The energy plan, which would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, also calls for new homes to be wired in ways that ease and even encourage conversion of natural-gas heating and appliances to electric sources.

“The future we’re trying to build together is a future beyond fossil fuels,” David Hochschild, the chair of the Energy Commission, said ahead of the agency’s vote. “Big changes require everyone to play a role. We all have a role in building this future.”

The commercial buildings that would be affected by the plan include hotels, offices, medical offices and clinics, retail and grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and civic spaces like theaters, auditoriums and convention centers.

The provisions would supplement requirements that took effect last year mandating that new single-family homes and multifamily dwellings up to three stories high include solar power.

Homes and businesses use nearly 70% of California’s electricity and are responsible for a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions, according to the commission. It said the proposals approved Wednesday would reduce emissions over 30 years as much as if nearly 2.2 million cars were taken off the road for a year.

Any increase in construction costs is expected to be minimal, the Energy Commission said. Adding solar power and storage during construction is considered more cost-effective than retrofitting.

Lindsay Buckley, a spokeswoman for the Energy Commission, said that “while there is no guarantee” that the Building Standards Commission will adopt the plan, it had never rejected such a proposal after approval by the energy panel.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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