Solar panel mandate burns 150,000 home buyers

By Senator Scott Wilk

Pilgrims, in search of freedom and self-governance, traveled halfway across the world on the Mayflower. One hundred and fifty-five years later the colonists fought the British for basically the same thing – independence and the right to make choices for themselves. Our government was founded on these principals and was designed so our elected officials are 100 percent accountable to the voters that put them in office.

An accountable, representative government is a part of American history and culture, yet here in California more and more of the decisions that impact our daily lives are made by unelected bureaucrats and politically appointed ideologues.

Life continues to be ever more expensive for ordinary Californians because of decisions made through the regulatory process.

Too often bureaucratic mandates are not the product of well-debated policy; they are knee-jerk reactions to public opinion swings, questionable science or overzealous agency officials. The latter is the most common.

When the Legislature adopts some grand plan – like requiring that all new buildings be twice as energy efficient – the “solution” usually empowers state agencies to craft regulations to meet arbitrary goals they set in the law.

Most recently the California Energy Commission’s mandate that all new homes in California include a minimum $10,000 solar panel system is the latest such overzealous attack. The policy makes no sense in our expensive housing market. Even worse, taxpayers have no recourse because the Energy Commission isn’t elected and therefore can’t be held accountable during election season.

My home has solar panels and I love them, but it was a choice my wife and I made, not an edict from an unelected bureaucrat. However, this mandate, imposed by the governor’s hand-picked energy commissioners, has priced 150,000 California homebuyers out of the market. Why 150,000? Because the National Association of Home Builders says that for every $1,000 increase in the price of a home, 15,000 buyers are priced out of the market. So this one action by the Energy Commission will shut 150,000 Californians out of buying a home.

Who will this hurt most? The same people most of these “regulatory groupthink” proposals hurt, ordinary Californians. These are the same people forced to commute hours each day because housing is too expensive near their jobs. The same people who are now paying a higher gas tax. And the same people that Sacramento Democrats continue to target with ideas like a pay-as-you-go mileage tax.

Severin Borenstein, professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, says “Rooftop solar is an extremely expensive way to move to zero-carbon energy.”

Other economists have chimed in similarly, questioning whether the mandate was even needed as there are plenty of less expensive options available for home buyers. We also now run the risk of reducing the availability of affordable options because of the solar panel mandate.

California currently has more solar generated power than it can use. During the day, when the sun is shining, solar panels generate a lot of electricity but very little of it is used because people are at work. The excess power puts a tremendous strain on the state’s power grid, so the California Independent System Operator, who oversees the majority of the state’s electric power, sends the excess power to neighboring states like Arizona and pays them over $2 million per year to take it off our hands.

When people are home, the sun isn’t shining and the solar panels sit idle. The process isn’t working now and mandating its expansion won’t help.

The cost of renting or buying a home in California is spiraling out of control. The once-Golden State is home to a quarter of the nation’s homeless population – that’s134, 000 people who can’t afford to have a roof over their heads. While the legislature and the governor pay lip service to tackling our lack of affordable housing, the very bureaucrats they appoint are adding thousands of dollars to the price of a home through the regulatory process.

Taking steps to improve energy efficiency and ensuring our kids will grow up in a clean environment are laudable goals and ones we should consider when making policy decisions. However, these regulatory mandates are not what our forefathers had in mind when establishing a representative government based on checks and balances.

The latest decision by the Energy Commission is a typical instance of why people come to distrust government. It is also an example of how the Democrat’s endless social experiments push hard-working Californians further away from the American Dream – and themselves further out of touch with reality.

We deserve better.