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Fun in the sun: Californian solar mandate

Over the summer, California passed a Solar Panel Mandate that will require all new houses three stories or fewer to use solar panels by 2020. It also increased standards for insulation and requires non residential buildings to upgrade to energy-efficient lighting.

At first, this may seem like a flawless idea; it’s definitely a big step forward in tackling the problem of climate change. However, it’s not that simple.

The Solar Panel Mandate would raise the price of a house by an average of $10,000. California, and especially Irvine, already has incredibly high housing prices; according to Business Insider, the median home price in California is over $600,000, more than double the U.S. median home price. In Irvine, the median home price is $865,000, according to realtor.com. This mandate would make it even more difficult for people with low incomes to buy homes.

Having only houses that the upper and some of the middle class can afford will gentrify California and increase the divide between the classes. These high housing prices are the reason why most people move out of California. A survey from the Bay Area Council found that 46% of people in the San Francisco Bay Area are thinking of moving away, and cite the housing crisis as their biggest reason. The mandate will only increase the amount of people leaving.

Since fossil fuels are harmful to the environment and there is a limited supply of them, we do need to eventually make a switch to renewable energy sources. However, there are cheaper alternatives than requiring each house to be equipped with solar panels, at least for right now.

For example, utility-scale solar farms are much more cost-effective than rooftop panels in generating energy, according to a study performed by the Brattle Group. They found that in the long run, “residential solar costs were roughly double the cost to generate the same amount of energy on a solar farm.” However, although it’s pricier, residential solar panels would make one more energy independent from the utility company. Instead of necessitating solar panels, the new law should let homeowners and buyers choose whether they would like to use residential solar power or energy from solar farms based on what is better suited for the consumer.

While a mandatory solar switch is a good idea and important for the environment, instead of requiring solar panels in the mandate, the Californian government could fund more solar farms and require everyone who could afford it to get some or all of their energy from solar farms. That way, houses would not be significantly less affordable, and we would still be reducing our carbon footprint. Once the price of solar panels decreases enough for everyone to afford it, California could then take further steps to require everyone to use solar energy.