Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Solar panels now a required option on all new homes

Schwarzenegger just signed the bill on Monday. It's just another example of a Republican singled handedly destroying the environment... oh... wait...

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Monday legislation that is expected to boost his plan to place solar panels on 1 million rooftops and create the equivalent of five new modern power plants.

The legislation, authored by Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, requires homebuilders to make rooftop solar panels an option for buyers of new homes in all housing tracts of at least 50 houses, beginning on Jan. 1, 2011.

"When you go in to buy a home, you'll pick your carpet, you'll pick your tile and hopefully you'll pick what type of solar roof you want," Murray said at a bill-signing ceremony in Los Angeles.

This is where I find myself getting conflicted much of the time. I generally hate it when government requires businesses to do anything. Anti-smoking laws are a great example. But I think this law might actually be a good idea. First off, it doesn't require that all new homes have them installed, it just requires that buyers be given the option by the manufacturer. No harm in that, right? If you want to have the solar panels you can get them and don't have to find someone after the house is built to install them for you. And as the article mentions, if the anticipated numbers are achieved, it could add the equivalent of 5 new power plants in California. Hell, even if it only adds one equivalent power plant, it's less strain on existing plants, less use of fossil fuels to create our energy, and overall, it's better for the environment. Yes, I said environment. Republicans aren't out to destroy the environment, contrary to popular opinion.

One small downside is that it doesn't take effect until 2011. That's two and a half years before we see these solar options available directly from the manufacturer. Seems a bit much to me, but you can't have everything.

The coolest thing that this bill allows that I didn't quote above is that if your panels create more energy than you consume, you can sell that energy to your electric company. That's right... Sell. Back. To. Your. Utility. So during those winter months when my electric bill is $40 if I produce more energy than I use, I would get credits to my account to help pay for the AC during the summer that's bumped my bill upwards of $250.

Now on a costs vs. benefits look, California residents can go here to get an estimate on the costs of installation, potential electric bill savings based on your zip code, and environmental benefits your system would create. The estimator starts you on a small 1.0 kW series of panels, but will allow you to adjust and see the costs and savings involved if you buy more or less. For me, it said a 1.0 kW series of panels would cost $8000 and save me an estimated $368 a year on electricity. So at that rate it would take 21 years for the panels to have paid for themselves. Now the estimator also mentions incentives that could cut the installation costs in half, which would take a little over 10 years to pay off. That's still not quite fast enough for me if I'm paying for this out of pocket, even with the incentives mainly because most people don't stay in the same home for that long. But if your manufacturer is putting them up for you, you'll just roll those costs into your home loan as opposed to paying out of pocket or taking out a home equity line to pay for the costs of doing it yourself. In your home loan it would cost you pennies a month over the 30 year life of your loan.

So overall this could be a good thing. Still we've got to wait until 2011... But maybe by then, I'll be in the market for a new house...