By Jeff Collins

The California Energy Commission voted 5-0 Wednesday, May 9, to adopt new energy building standards requiring solar panels for virtually all new homes built in the state starting in 2020.

The decision likely will make California the first state in the nation requiring solar for new houses and low-rise condos and apartments.

"This is a very bold and visionary step we're taking today," said David Hochschild, one of five voting members on the appointed energy panel. "We will be the first state to adopt this. We will not be the last."

The vote at the end of a 2 1/2-hour review in Sacramento will trigger a huge increase in solar installations. Currently, solar is included on just 15 percent to 20 percent of new single-family homes, said Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association.

Rick Umoff of the Solar Energy Industries Association estimated that the number will jump to more than 20,000 newly built solar homes in 2020.

"The commission's decision today is undeniably historic," Umoff said.

The vote now sends the proposed energy standards to the California Building Standards Commission for inclusion in the new state building code.

The building commission, which will meet on the issue next fall, traditionally accepts energy commission recommendations without change, said Amber Beck, an energy commission spokeswoman.

The final building code will be approved in 2019 and will become effective in 2020.

In addition to solar, the proposed energy rules would require additional improvements to insulation in the walls and attics of new homes as well as more efficient windows, water heaters and other appliances.

The proposed new requirements would add an estimated $8,400 to $12,400 to the current cost of building a home, depending where in the state it's located, Raymer said. Solar systems need to be bigger -- and more costly -- in hotter parts of the state like the Inland Empire and the Central Valley.

Energy commission spokeswoman Amber Beck estimated the solar mandate would add an average of $9,500 in construction costs over the 2016 building code, but would save the homebuyer an estimated $19,000 in utility bills over the life of a 30-year mortgage. That amounts to an increased mortgage payment of about $40 per month on average but saves an estimated $80 per month in utility bills.

Those added building costs come on top of an estimated $8,500 per home for energy-efficiency improvements mandated in earlier building code revisions since 2010.

The proposed new energy rules also would apply to new apartment and condo buildings up to three stories tall as well as houses. Exceptions or alternatives will be allowed when homes are shaded by trees or buildings or when the home's roofs are too small to accommodate solar panels.

Legislative review isn't required.

The California Building Standards Commission will review the proposed new energy standards in the fall for a final decision on whether to add them to the state building code. Beck, the energy commission spokeswoman, said the Building Standards Commission traditionally accepts energy commission recommendations without change.

The final building code will be adopted in early to mid-2019 and become effective for all new homes and buildings receiving permits after Jan. 1, 2020.

(c)2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)