This coming Wednesday the City of Santa Monica will begin mandating the installation of a solar electric photovoltaic system on all new building.
Santa Monica joins the California cities of Lancaster and Sebastopol which started requiring rooftop solar installations in 2013, and San Francisco which similar law, for building under 10 stories tall, takes effect January 1, 2017.
On April 26, 2016, Santa Monica, which lies west of downtown Los Angeles, adopted local amendments to the California Energy Code. All building permit applications, including for alterations to the city’s iconic Muscle Beach, will now be subject to these local amendments, which include:
All new one and two family dwellings are required to install a solar electric photovoltaic system with a minimum total wattage 1.5 times the square footage of the dwelling or a photovoltaic system or other renewable energy system that will offset 75%-100% of the Time Dependent Valuation energy budget (in accordance with state law).
All new low-rise residential dwellings are required to install a solar electric photovoltaic system with the minimum total wattage 2.0 times the square footage of the building footprint.
And all non-residential and high-rise residential are also required to install a solar electric photovoltaic system with a minimum total wattage 2.0 times the square footage of the building footprint. So, a four-story building with a footprint of 10,000 square feet would need a 20 kilowatt system under the new law.
These requirements can be waived or reduced, by the minimum extent necessary, where production of energy from solar panels is technically infeasible due to lack of available and feasible unshaded areas.
Note, California law already requires most new construction to have 15% of the rooftop “solar ready.”
And while mandating onsite solar systems is not at all common today, Baltimore was actually the first major American city, to mandate all new building include renewable energy systems. Baltimore’s green code requires all buildings that consume energy must contain at least one renewable energy system capable of producing at least 1% of the total estimated annual energy use of the building. More elastic and arguably more progressive than the California mandates, the Baltimore options include not only solar photovoltaic systems, but also wind systems, solar hot water heating systems, and geothermal systems. There is an exception for buildings which commit for a period of ten years to buy renewable energy credits for at least 2% of annual energy consumption.
Whether in Santa Monica or Baltimore, there is still the very real unanswered question of whether or not onsite renewable energy mandates are good energy policy or environmental policy (e.g., possibly rooftops are better utilized for greywater collection, storm water management, combatting urban heat island effect, etc.)?
Both California and Maryland have mature renewable energy portfolio standards that make distributed small scale generation not only more expensive per watt than central generation for the user but also economically inefficient, largely as a result of regulatory schemes that protect dinosaur electric utility monopolies.
A 30 story highly energy efficient proposed LEED Gold building being permitted in Baltimore has little alternative but to purchase 10 years of RECs (i.e., the building cannot produce 1% of energy used in the roof footprint) increasing first costs under the guise of distributed generation, and such seems like less than ideal public policy.