[OPINION] A conservative’s defense of rooftop-solar requirement

The Arizona Republic

By Court Rich | Senior Partner, Rose Law Group

(Editor’s note:Opinion pieces are published for discussions purposes only.)

This month, the California Energy Commission implemented a requirement that all new homes constructed after January 1, 2020, include rooftop solar. This requirement builds upon previous state codes that, like many jurisdictions across the country, already required every new home to have a “solar-ready roof ” to accommodate future solar installation.

As a lover of solar who also happens to be a Republican resident of Arizona, California’s new standard leaves me yet again defending a pro-solar policy against my friends’ reflexive guffaws.

The initial negative reactions I have heard in my circles boil down to two arguments. The first argument is baseless yet effective among those Arizonans who wish to not really think. That argument goes something like this: California!

The second — and more thoughtful — argument is that requiring rooftop solar is an example of government overreach that increases home costs. As a political conservative, the second argument is one I have been pondering.

I lean libertarian, but I don’t lean so far as to reject building codes altogether. At their core, building codes put in place minimum standards for design, quality and safety that society expects. There are wide-ranging standards routinely requiring special insulation in the walls; handrails on staircases; flow rates for plumbing fixtures; standards for ventilation in the bathroom; certain types of paint; specific building materials based on location in a structure; minimum ceiling heights; and on and on and on.

The overwhelming majority of building code requirements increase home prices even if they lower the overall operation and maintenance costs over time. As a result, I reject that “It will increase the cost of a home” is a valid objection to the new solar requirement.

It’s official. In California, new homes built in 2020 and beyond will be required to incorporate solar panels.

There is a socialist cousin of the “It will cost more” objection, and it goes like this: Government-backed monopoly utilities use economies of scale to build utility scale cheaper than you can build rooftop solar, so we should stymie, not encourage, rooftop solar. This is the type of logic espoused by people who use the word “proletariat” and don’t mind bread lines. Even if the dubious claim that the government can do this cheaper were true, in America we do not have the government do things based on the fact that the government has more buying power than the individual.

Since having a cost component is not unique for building code requirements, is there something special about rooftop solar that says it shouldn’t be in a building code? Energy efficiency is included in building codes to minimize energy expenses and avoid wasteful energy usage. The carbon footprint and energy bills of a home with rooftop solar are lower.

If it is appropriate for a building code to require upgraded insulation, high-efficiency lighting, high-efficiency heat pumps and more, rooftop solar is no stretch. It is worth noting that the new requirement makes reasonable exceptions for homes located in areas where sunlight is shaded while also encouraging the implementation of beneficial energy storage.

To those reacting as if California just went all, well, California on us: Relax. It’s not like the Golden State just required each home to have an organic garden and an extra bedroom dedicated to housing a homeless immigrant. No, the state merely updated their building standards to require another means of lowering energy usage, cleaning the environment and reducing operating costs for homeowners. I expect other states to follow suit.

Court Rich is senior partner at Rose Law Group, where he represents many of the nation’s largest solar companies and works on real estate development issues. Reach him at CRich@roselawgroup.com.

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