William Armstrong’s Cragside home was pioneering in its use of renewable energy.

Part of the age we live in seems to be rediscovering that old ways of doing things were actually better. For example, the recent realization that the makeup of towns to encourage vibrancy through density and the support of multi-income levels versus single-strata communities is better – a millennia-old concept only deviated from with the advent of the car and suburban tract developments. Part of the human condition seems to be learning from (some) mistakes.

In the 1860s, William Armstrong was “green” before it was dreamt of. In addition to planting 7 million (yes, million) trees at his Cragside estate, he was big into renewable energy at the dawn of the electrical era. He said coal “was used wastefully and extravagantly in all its applications” and that Britain would run out of coal in 200 years. He was also keen to harness solar power saying that a single acre located in sunny climates would generate the power equivalent to 4,000 horses toiling for nine hours a day.

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“Government forcing citizens to purchase products that cost more than $15,000, offer no safety benefits and paybacks not usually realized for a decade or more is hardly cause for celebration. In California, lobbyists for the solar industry succeeded where their innovation and marketing efforts failed.”

That’s what Phil Crone, Executive Officer of the Dallas Builders Association had to say about the new law passed last week to require solar power installations on all new homes (including townhome) builds in sunny California. It’s a real headscratcher that, in a state where housing is already the highest in the nation, lawmakers would add on yet more cost that will, obviously, be ultimately covered by the consumer.

 “New homes built in the last 20 years account for less than one percent of green house gas emissions,” says Phil. “Homes built today are 30 percent more energy efficient than those built ten years ago. Hundreds of new products have contributed to these milestones. Picking one prevents others from emerging.”

The measure solar mandate will apply to all homes, condos, and apartment buildings up to three stories high as of January 1, 2020, with exceptions for structures built in the shade (how will they define this one?) and offsets available for other energy-saving measures, such as installing batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall. 

What Elon Musk is losing on his cars, he might be gaining on his solar roofs.

Only 15 to 20% of new single-family homes in California include solar installations currently. The mandate is expected to add $25,000 to $30,000 more to the cost of a new home than those built to the current 2006 code. Experts insist that extra cost, which accounts for both solar installation and improved insulation, would be recouped over the life of the home in savings on energy bills.

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