Solar Panels Are a Requirement for New Residences in California. Do Victims of Wildfires Deserve a Break?

Due to state legislation that mandates solar panels on new homes, even those without them before the fire, many rebuilt homeowners have paid tens of thousands of dollars.

On Oct. 25, 2023, Jose Villanueva carries siding while building a paradise house.

This project is partially financed by ReCoverCA, a state initiative that helps rebuild houses in disaster zones.

The Caldor Fire destroyed hundreds of Joe Patterson’s Northern California Assembly district houses.

State legislation that mandates solar panels on new homes, even those without them before the fire, has cost rebuilt homeowners tens of thousands of dollars in the three years after that horrific summer.

“Trust me: $25,000 to build solar on a house without solar is 100% an impediment to rebuilding,” Rocklin Republican Patterson told the Assembly Natural Resources Committee this week.

Patterson’s Assembly Bill 2787, which cleared the committee unanimously, would exclude some poorly insured, low- and middle-income households from the state’s solar-panel construction mandate.

The measure would exempt households below the county median income from the state’s building standards that mandate new solar on natural disaster-damaged houses. The law, which expires in 2028, would also limit the benefit to individuals without insurance to pay the expense of upgrading to new solar.

The measure currently faces uncertainty in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. That committee rejected Fresno Republican Assemblymember Jim Patterson’s plan last year.

Joe Patterson, who is not related, told CalMatters he expects his Fresno Republican-coauthored bill to pass the committee this time since it doesn’t support research like last year’s.

If the Senate passes it and it reaches Gov. Gavin Newsom, he may sign it. Newsom vetoed a similar bill in 2022, citing the need for solar electricity to decrease wildfire-causing greenhouse emissions.

Solar power is essential to the state’s aim of 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and 100% by 2045. By 2045, rooftop and large-scale solar will generate over half the grid’s power.

“Extending this exemption would nullify these positive outcomes and instead would increase homeowner energy costs at a time when many homeowners are facing rising electric rates and bills,” Newsom stated in his rejection.

Asked about this new initiative, Newsom’s press office said the governor seldom discusses pending legislation.

Joe Patterson believes Newsom will support this plan since it’s narrower than the one he vetoed in 2022 and because some Caldor Fire victims with bad insurance say they never received federal disaster assistance money to rebuild.

Recently, California’s wildfire insurance situation has worsened.
After the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons, hundreds of thousands of Californians lost their private insurance coverage, requiring them to join the FAIR plan or be uninsured.

State Farm canceled 72,000 California home and apartment insurance policies last month.

Patterson told the Natural Resources Committee that FAIR Plan enrollment in his district had skyrocketed.

“In 2019, we had roughly 8,100 households covered by the FAIR Plan in my district,” Joe Patterson told the committee. “Now, in 2023, we will have 41,000 FAIR Plan beneficiaries.”

He claimed the FAIR plan will only cover 10% of the cost to upgrade a demolished home to current construction requirements, including solar panels.

“And that 10% coverage really won’t go very far, especially to cover a $25,000 solar system,” Patterson told the committee.

Patterson said El Dorado County Supervisor George Turnboo sat beside him. Caldor Fire destroyed Grizzly Flats in his neighborhood.

“The costly burden on Caldor Fire survivors trying to rebuild their lives is not worth the minimal benefit solar technology provides in a very high snow and forest region,” Turnboo added.

Their arguments convinced 11 members of the Natural Resources Committee, including eight Democrats, to adopt the bill against the opposition of the solar industry.

“We understand the very sympathetic plight that some of these folks are in,” said California Solar and Storage Association spokesperson Kim Stone. “We don’t exempt them from other building code upgrade requirements.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *