Opinion: Rooftop solar requirement for new San Diego homes could cut costs

Solar panels on the roof of a house in Southern California. Courtesy of LA Solar Group

San Diegans recently passed two unpleasant milestones that are creating economic challenges for families and employers in our area: we now live in the most expensive housing market in the country, and residents pay the highest utility rates in the country. .

Both of these costs have considerable impacts on the region’s ability to recover from the ripple effects of COVID.

Monthly utility bills are part of the calculations that businesses, landlords, and tenants make to determine what they can afford in terms of salaries, office space, and housing. Higher heating, lighting and air conditioning costs exacerbate the pain of expensive leases, mortgages and rent.

And while real estate costs are at least partially attributed to market fluctuations (low inventory, high demand), electricity and gas charges and prices are set by decisions at the California Public Utilities Commission.

Unfortunately, San Diegans has been locked into an expensive, de facto 20-year utility franchise agreement approved by the city council last year. We will see no respite from higher gas and electric rates negotiated by industry lobbyists in proceedings away from San Diego. And since local ratepayers add approximately $1 million in profits to our investor-owned utility every day — San Diego Gas & Electric — consumers are essentially paying for SDG&E lobbyists to bargain against our economic interests in court hearings. PUC.

In contrast, most household incomes cannot keep pace with rapidly rising monthly bills. This creates housing and food insecurity for many San Diegan residents who struggle to pay high rent and heating bills during an unusually cold winter. These payments mean fewer dollars available for discretionary consumer spending and make it harder for area employers to attract and retain workers and pay competitive wages.

We’ve heard these stories for years – as chairman of the California Assembly’s Community Development and Housing Committee and as board members of the Protect the Foundation of our communities. The foundation advocates for locally produced, clean and sustainable energy. We explore climate change solutions that can also address rising housing and utility costs. This includes integrating energy efficiency and on-site generation into all affordable housing projects.

If more low- and middle-income residents have access to clean, sustainable energy generated onsite through solar panels, they will have more money left over after paying bills to spend on other necessities.

That’s why, via public comments to the San Diego City Council on February 7, we suggested the council add requirements for solar power systems to three 50-year leases until renewal, which provide affordable housing on city property in Pacific Beach and the Mid-Area.

We have outlined the benefits of on-site solar power generation:

  • Tenants will have lower utility bills
  • The management company will pay less for lighting and heating etc. in common use areas
  • San Diego will have a higher ROI from these properties

Board member Joe LaCava recognized the value of these suggestions. After finishing his prepared remarks, he referenced public comments and proposed an amendment to the lease agreements: requiring the installation of solar panels on all three properties as a condition of the 50-year lease extension.

The proponent’s representative agreed to this condition. In the years to come, hundreds of tenants will not only pay lower rents, but also reduced utility bills.

Given how easily this developer accepted those terms, we wondered why so many properties in the city, from City Hall to watchtowers, lack solar panels.

Rooftop solar reduces energy costs. Parking signs provide shade and cooling to reduce the “heat island” effects of direct sunlight on buildings, asphalt and concrete.

The San Diego area already produces the most photovoltaic electricity in the state. We have enough sunshine to provide clean, sustainable local energy for most of our needs.

Likewise, many residents work in the “innovation economy”. They are early adopters of new technologies, including hybrid and electric vehicles. Many have installed solar panels and “power walls” on rooftops to reduce household and transportation costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and protect air quality.

The combination of free, clean, and locally generated solar power in all future housing designs will help alleviate some, but not all, of the higher housing costs San Diegans faces. Many other policies, including density regulations and zoning laws, will need to be changed to improve housing affordability.

But an essential step is for the city council to step out of the current framework of energy production and take advantage of the abundant sunshine that makes San Diego so attractive, and use it to make life a little more affordable.

Former Assemblyman Lori Saldaña and engineer Bill Powers are board members of the Protect Our Communities Foundation.

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