News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Another CA City Bans Construction of Buildings Without Solar Panels

Solar panels on a Sebastopol roof | Photo: ATIS547/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The City Council of Sebastopol, a liberal enclave in Northern California's semi-rural Sonoma County, voted Tuesday to require that all new residential and commercial buildings in the city include rooftop solar. Sebastopol thus joins the Mojave Desert city of Lancaster in banning new construction without solar panels.

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According to the new regulations approved unanimously by the Sebastopol City Council, new homes and commercial buildings must include enough solar generating capacity to cover 75 percent of the building's annual power consumption, or two watts of capacity per square foot of "insulated building area." That means moderately sized homes of 1,000 square feet will be required to include two kilowatts of solar panels, significantly larger than the solar arrays often installed on small homes.

Homes without solar potential would have other avenues available to them to comply with the new rules, including paying a fee.

According to Guy Kovner at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Sebastopol's policy was in the works well before Lancaster announced its decision to require solar panels on or near new residential construction. "We were going to be number one," Kovner reported Mayor Michael Kyes saying prior to the Council vote. "Now we're number two."

But Sebastopol has upped the ante on Lancaster. Not only does the new policy cover commercial development where Lancaster's only covers residential, but Sebastopol's new rule also covers significant remodels and renovations.

So we've got a conservative Southern California city and a liberal Northern California city both now mandating rooftop solar on new construction. Who's next?

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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Interesting article on an interesting development. But are parking lots exempt - as they are not "buildings". If so, that's crazy. Parking across the West ought to be mandated to be Solar-covered, almost before anything else. That seems like a no-brainer!

This also raises several other questions that I do not see addressed here. For example, will the solar be required to be connected to the local utility? What are the maintenance and use requirements, (and insurance implications)? Who will own the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), especially in - say - the construction of a sizable development? And who benefits from any tax credits?

This could be a retrograde step if it is made without considering all of these issues. why? Because it could make new owners (commercial and residential) resentful of solar panels that they had to pay for but that ultimately end up benefiting the builder, or seller or the utility. And that would be a shame.