Osceola delays vote on solar mandate for new home construction

Osceola County Commissioners have postponed a vote on new energy efficiency building policy that would mandate installation of solar panels on all new homes and major residential remodels.

County spokesman Mark Pino told GrowthSpotter the item was pulled from next Monday's meeting agenda. This issue goes to the county's Growth Management Task Force this week.

The proposed solar mandate was included among dozens of new initiatives in a draft of the county's Comprehensive Plan Amendment that would create a new element for climate change and renewable energy. It says the County's Land Development Code "shall be amended to require the installation of solar collectors on all new residential construction or on major alterations to existing residential structures."

Modeled after a South Miami ordinance approved in 2017, it would give builders an alternative to solar in the form of energy saving improvements that achieve similar levels of energy efficiency.

Commissioner Viviana Janer said she sees the policy as an important first step in the county's response to climate change. 

"One of the benefits is if a developer adds solar during the construction phase, the cost is really minimal and it provides the customer the option of upgrading if they want to add more panels," she said Tuesday. "It would be an upgrade for the developer, so I see it as a win-win."

Janer first raised the issue of adding a solar provision to the building code last October during initial discussion of the county's six-month moratorium. At the time, other commissioners favored an incentive-based approach. 

California is moving toward a state-wide solar mandate for new home construction. Last week, the California Energy Commission voted unanimously to approve the new measure, along with higher insulation and air filter requirements for all new homes. 

Lee Steinhauer, government affairs director for the Greater Orlando Builders Association, said the proposal has raised concerns about potential construction costs, which ultimately get passed on to buyers. A full solar array typically costs about $10,000 upfront but results in utility savings over the life of the home.

"Here's the issue that needs to be clarified," Steinhauer said. "The way it was initially presented to builders was that it seemed to come out of nowhere. On the one side, it's the mandating of solar. Are you telling us we have to have enough solar panels to power the whole house?"

Janer said that's not her intention. The minimum standards would be similar to the South Miami ordinance. It would apply to all new single-family homes and townhomes, but not commercial structures.

"We're talking about one panel," she said. "That's enough energy to power your water heater."

The South Miami ordinance requires a minimum of one solar panel per 1,000 square feet of living space, or 175 square feet of solar collectors per 1,000 square feet of roof space. 

South Miami has a population of about 12,000 people and a median home value of nearly $400,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

"The city of South Miami, from where this is originating, is a very different place from Osceola County," Steinhauer said. "There you're mostly dealing with tear-downs. The amount of people being affected, and who's being affected, is very different." 

GOBA also asked for more details regarding what type of solar alternatives would be acceptable in the new building code. 

"We're never going to be in favor of mandating a one-size-fits-all policy," Steinhauer said. "Flexibility, options and incentives are what we prefer as an industry. There should be a robust discussion about something like this."

Janer said those options will be available once the ordinance has been drafted.  "We are looking into the possiblity of having other options, but I can't say now what those would be," she said. "I can say it wouldn't affect anything that's in the pipeline now."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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