Talk about green buildings. California regulators on Thursday proposed that all new residential housing developments in the Golden State be energy self-sufficient by 2020, and that all new commercial buildings be "zero net energy" by 2030. The California Public Utilities Commission also ordered the state’s investor-owned utilities to collaborate on creating a single efficiency program to help meet California’s mandate to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
"A comprehensive, integrated long-term strategy to achieve maximum energy savings in residential new construction is both very promising and critically needed," wrote Commissioner Dian Grueneich and Administrative Law Judge Kim Malcolm in a 148-page proposed decision. "[Annual] potential energy savings could be as high as 500 megawatts. These savings are substantial and would provide long term, permanent energy savings and can lead to the development of new technologies and the training of design and construction professionals that will extend to the retrofit market." The commission estimated that new carbon-neutral commercial buildings would save up to 950 megawatts a year, or the equivalent of two large power plants. Commercial building consume about a third of California’s electricity production.
But the commission was vague on how to actually make buildings energy self-sufficient. Presumably that would involve a combination of energy efficiency measures and power generation from solar panels and other sources of renewable energy. And while the commission regulates big utilities like PG&E (PCG), Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE), it cannot impose energy efficiency standards on the building industry. The California Energy Commission and local governments will have more influence on that front. Still, the utilities spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on energy efficiency programs and can offer lucrative incentives to building owners to go green. And some residential builders, such as Lennar (LEN), already are beginning to sell new homes with solar panels integrated into their roofs.