More states want solar power to be option on new homes

A growing number of states are moving to require home builders to offer solar electricity and hot-water systems in new homes, right alongside more traditional options such as fancy kitchen countertops and special window treatments.

"It's just like the granite countertop upgrade or the two-car garage or the larger closet — these are options the homeowner can choose to purchase," said Jeff Lyng, the renewable energy program manager for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's Energy Office.

In Colorado, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require builders to offer a range of options, from pre-wiring the home for solar power to full installation of a solar system. The legislation would also require builders to tell buyers they can roll the cost of the system into their mortgage, reducing up-front costs, Lyng said.

"What this begins to do is standardize things. We're trying to build Colorado's infrastructure to be ready for solar," Lyng said.

The Colorado proposal has passed in the state House and awaits Senate consideration. Ritter, a Democrat who had solar panels installed at the Governor's Mansion in Denver several years ago, said he plans to sign the bill.

Elsewhere:

•New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill last month that would require builders in developments of 25 homes or more to offer solar panels to home buyers and to discuss during construction the benefits of clean energy.

•A California law taking effect in 2010 will require builders to offer solar panels on homes in developments of more than 50 houses.

•Hawaii, starting Jan. 1, will require all new single-family homes to include solar hot-water heaters, said Russell Pang, a spokesman for Gov. Linda Lingle, a Democrat. Hawaii imports 90% of its fossil fuel energy sources, Pang said. "Living on an island, that's not the kind of thing we want to be depending on."

•New Mexico home builders must offer solar-ready wiring but are not obligated to offer solar installation, under a law that took effect last year.

The federal government is offering a 30% tax credit for homeowners who install solar panels or solar water heaters through 2016, said Karen Schneider, spokeswoman for the federal Energy Star program. The credit covers materials and installation costs, with no ceiling on claims.

Colorado officials hope at least 10% of the 12,000 new homes expected to be built in the state this year have solar systems installed, creating at least 300 jobs for installation technicians, Lyng said.

Daniel Glick, of Lafayette, Colo., helped persuade more than 25 families in his neighborhood to install solar systems over the past several years. Glick said residents agreed to use homeowners association dues to make low-interest loans to their neighbors to cover installation costs. Glick now gets a monthly check from his power company because his home is generating more power than it uses.

"It's not just the right thing to do. It makes economic sense," he said.

Hughes reports for the Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan

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