Cuneyt Dil, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Over the objections of environmentalists, California regulators approved a proposal Thursday to allow builders to construct homes without solar panels, a decision critics said undercuts California’s seven-week-old law that all new houses have their own solar power.
At a passionate hearing, the California Energy Commission unanimously approved the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan to build its own large-scale solar site that homeowners can tap into, forgoing the need for solar on each new home.
Environmentalists said it guts the state’s new landmark mandate and will lead to other statewide proposals copying Sacramento’s utility, which serves 1.5 million residents. But regulators backed the proposal after support from home builders and lawmakers who said it provides clean energy without raising home prices in a state facing a housing crisis.
“This is something that is bold and cutting edge,” Commissioner Janea Scott said of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s application.
The mandate that took effect Jan. 1 calls for new single-family houses or low-rise apartments to install solar panels. Alternately, utilities and organizations can apply to the California Energy Commission to build an offsite “community shared solar” site for buildings to draw from.
Using the latter option, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan sets a blueprint for private and public entities to seek their own large solar sites to meet the mandate, watchers say. The largest public utility in the U.S. — the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power — endorsed the idea in filings to the commission.
Public testimony ran for two hours at the commission meeting Thursday. Environmentalists and some homeowners said the move means fewer homes will be built with solar panels included. Solar advocates said consumers would save more money with their own solar panels rather than the savings from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s proposed plan.