California has always had the reputation of being a green state. It has been a leader within the United States for climate change policy and actions, ranging from mandated clean air initiatives to high numbers of veganism. According to the New York Times, state law even requires at least 50% of electricity coming from non carbon-producing sources by 2030. Enter December 2018, when California became the first state to pass legislation requiring new residential buildings to have solar panels.

The California Building Standards Commission unanimously voted to pass the decision which will apply to new homes under 3 stories. The policy will go into effect January 1 of 2020, and is aimed at reducing the ozone-damaging household emissions that come from natural gas and move the state towards a more sustainable future.

Though it may seem like another incredible environmental effort, no change is without criticism. Let’s walk through some of the pros and cons.

One of the largest downsides is initial cost. The move will increase the price of building by an average of $10,000 per home and presumably drive up real estate as well. Unfortunately, this means green homes will be available only to those who can afford the added cost in an already expensive state housing market. In addition, half of the country’s solar panels are in California already, with excess energy being wasted during the day, as other states are not buying it all. California already has one of the highest energy costs in the country, and critics have expressed concern that the initiative will push costs onto non-solar users.

On the other side, though, one must acknowledge that the move is groundbreaking and a tangible, effective way to reduce carbon emissions and support clean energy. Though building and buying costs will increase, it is estimated by the California Energy Commission that the cost savings will be around $19,000 for each home over 30 years. Short-term increase will lead to long-term savings in household bills. Solar panels are actually the cheapest they have ever been right now, and are very accessible to builders as well as owners.

The transition from fossil fuel use to renewable energy sources is a step in the direction scientists are urging the world to move. In a time when we are being flooded with environmental reports and experts urging that immediate action is needed, solar panel mandates seem like a necessary, forward-thinking move. New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington DC have all considered similar legislation, and spreading energy efficient practices would be good for one of the world’s highest CO2 emitters and most populated countries.

Perhaps it is time for Canada to take a nod from California and up their climate change policy, or introduce some kind of mandated energy efficient practices. With the upcoming federal election in September all eyes will be on Ottawa, and hopefully climate change actions are pushed to the forefront of platforms and debate.

Written by Emma Baker, Carleton Climate Commons practicum student


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Penn, I. (2018, May 9). California will require solar power for new homes. The New York Times. Retrieved from

United States Environmental Protection Agency (2015). Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. Retrieved from