California Solar Panel Exemptions under AB 178

Solar panels have become a huge part of energy use innovation, especially since global warming and energy deficiencies have become mainstream. There are many laws and regulations centered around energy use and consumption.

In 2018, California voted in favor of a bill that made solar photovoltaic (PV) panels a requirement for newly constructed low-rise residential buildings. This bill was intended to go into effect in 2020. Overall, the requirement would transition all single-family and multi-family homes under three stories into using solar panel energy. In 2019, Assembly Bill Number 178 was added to Section 25402.13 of the Public Resources Code, relating to energy. The exemption under AB 178, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed, is a temporary action to exempt residential builds requiring replacement, restoration, or repair from compliance in the case of a state of emergency. This exemption is in effect until January 1, 2023. The bill required local jurisdictions to provide a program that imposes the state mandate of Assembly Bill 178.

Reasons for the Exemptions

Although California voters sought to transition the state to solar-powered residential properties, some factors about the current position of the communities in California offer reasons why an exemption is favorable in some cases. California experiences devastation through natural disasters such as floods and dangerous wildfires. The need to rebuild quickly following a devastating loss of property or damage could be very costly, unexpected, and overwhelming for citizens, so Newsom argued it was the best decision to sign AB 178. This exemption hastens the process of permitting rebuild and repair on properties without the need to add solar PV panels; however, solar is encouraged for California’s energy goals.

What Does AB 178 Say?

AB-178 specifically calls out provisions for properties that meet requirements for the property owner’s income, insurance status, location, and surface area of construction. Each jurisdiction has its own process for permitting construction, so this mandate acts as a guide for local governments. Each local government, however, will need to create and implement its  own interpretations of the exemptions. Construction projects will not need to comply with any additional PV requirements in effect at the time of repair, restoration, or replacement if the provisions are met.

Opposition to AB 178

Though California voters agreed that solar PV panels should be required for incoming construction, there is an opposing argument for AB 178. Some argue the cost of adding solar PV panels is far less than the overall cost of rebuilding older properties following a disaster. For example, seismic upgrades are more costly and even fire sprinkler systems for multi-family residences. These upgrades would be mandatory in most cases based on updated laws and building codes over the years, so the opposition believes it is not necessary to exempt solar.

Solar energy has benefits that confront energy costs and damage from wildfires in some cases. Solar panels can be used for energy storage in the case of a blackout, which is common during wildfire season. This backup energy can contribute to cell towers, medical equipment, and even refrigeration for food and medical supplies. Solar panel energy can truly benefit homes in more rural communities that are fire-prone. 

Rebuilding a home after a devastating loss is difficult, but in some cases, the upgrades can benefit an owner more than rebuilding to the same condition. For example, fire insurance is meant to provide additional coverage for loss or damage to a structure destroyed or damaged by a fire. The policies reimburse the policyholders through a replacement cost basis or an actual cash value for the damages. Upgrades can be assessed on a replacement-cost basis for reimbursements. The opposition argues that the AB 178 exemptions contribute to homeowners not being able to get reimbursed or funded by their insurance policies for solar PV panel upgrades.

The initial money saved from the exemption does not add up to the savings associated with solar energy-powered residential properties. Homeowners can save an estimated amount of $28,000 over the course of 30-years, according to the California Energy Commission (CEC). This ultimately benefits homeowners over time. The goal is for Californians affected by the devastation to get back in their homes quickly; however, the opposition thinks that solar energy is a benefit that will build California to be more resilient.

Getting Solar Installed

The benefits of investing in solar panels can result in savings and climate benefits. California voters are aware of the climate changes in their communities that result in more wildfires and floods. These natural disasters are a reaction to over industrialization and global warming. AB 178 is meant to protect those suffering from the damage and help them build quickly based on the exemption of having solar PV panels. The opposition states that solar only benefits those after a loss. Solar energy is a great starting point to reducing your net footprint, and Design Everest provides the expertise on design and installation. The Design Everest team can draft structural plans and calculations to add solar panels to a home. Call (877) 959-5914 to get a free quote and consultation today.

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