California panel backs solar mandate

LOS ANGELES – California regulators voted last week to require builders to install solar power and battery storage in many new commercial and high-rise residential projects. It is the latest initiative in the state’s energetic efforts to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources.

The five-member California Energy Commission unanimously approved the proposal.

It is now being taken up by the state building standards commission, which is expected to include it in a general revision of the building regulations in December. The energy plan, which is due to come into force on January 1, 2023, also provides for new houses to be wired in such a way that the switch from natural gas heating and appliances to electrical sources is facilitated and even encouraged.

“The future we want to build together is a future beyond fossil fuels,” said David Hochschild, chairman of the energy commission, before the agency’s vote. “Big changes require everyone to play a role. We all have a role in building this future.”

Commercial buildings that would be affected by the plan include hotels, offices, medical practices and clinics, retail and grocery stores, restaurants, schools and public spaces such as theaters, lecture halls and convention centers.

The regulations would supplement the requirements that came into force last year, which provide for new single and multi-family houses to be supplied with solar power up to three floors.

According to the commission, homes and businesses use nearly 70% of California’s electricity and are responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. The recently approved proposals would reduce emissions as much over a 30 year period as taking nearly 2.2 million cars off the road for a year.

Construction costs are expected to increase only minimally, said the Energy Commission. Adding solar power and storage during construction is considered more cost effective than retrofitting.

Lindsay Buckley, a spokeswoman for the energy commission, said while there was no guarantee that the Building Standards Commission would pass the plan, she never turned down such a proposal once it was approved by the energy panel.

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