State Senate Committee Approves Bill Exempting 2020 California Wildfire Victims from Solar Panel Building Requirements

Photo Cred: Highpoint Solar

2020 was an unprecedented year for California wildfires. More than 8,500 incidents throughout 53 of the state’s 58 counties burned over 4 million acres and damaged or destroyed over 11,000 structures, inflicting 33 casualties. The August Complex, alone burning over 1 million acres in seven counties for 86 days, became the state’s largest wildfire on record.

Following the record-breaking year, in February 2021 Assemblyman Jim Patterson of the 23rd District introduced Assembly Bill No. 1078 to provide victims of the 2020 wildfires an exemption from current solar panel requirements when rebuilding their homes.

Current law allows that residences damaged or destroyed by a disaster in a state of emergency prior to January 1, 2020 can be rebuilt to the solar energy standards in place when the original building was constructed, not the standards currently in place at the time of rebuilding, provided that the homeowner meets certain income, insurance, and square footage requirements. AB 1078 would extend that current exemption to the 2020 wildfire season, covering residential loses prior to January 1, 2021 for homeowners with income at or below their county’s median, without code upgrade insurance at the time the home was damaged, and who rebuild their home with equivalent square footage in the same site.

Assemblyman Patterson noted, “Thousands of homes were lost in 2020 wildfires. Many don’t have enough insurance money to cover the cost of rebuilding as it is. These are not investors or real estate moguls. They are victims who are trying to come back home. AB 1078 will help ease the burden of rebuilding after everything they had was destroyed.”

The proposed building exemption would remain in effect through January 1, 2024, providing an extended window for construction and further cushioning the burden of rebuilding.

Eastern Sierra NOW reached out to Amy Smith, CFO of Highpoint Solar, to comment on the bill and the status of solar panel building requirements in California.

Smith expressed that the company is pleased to see the bill moving through the legislative process, but added that additional amendments to current solar building requirements would also be beneficial.

Photo Cred: Highpoint Solar

“We believe the best way to promote a reduced carbon footprint is by encouraging businesses and individuals with rebates, incentives, and tax credits. While there is a 26% Federal Tax Credit in place at the moment, no California incentives exist. This is despite the fact that California is running at a record budget surplus.”

Smith also highlighted the widespread benefits all would enjoy under such a proposal. “Creating incentives for those who need it most would not only greatly benefit our planet, it would also provide relief from high electricity bills and put money back into the pockets of the people who need it most, while creating jobs and supporting the local economy.”

AB 1078, co-authored by James Gallagher (3rd District) and Devon J. Mathis (26th District), has already passed in the state’s Assembly Natural Resources Committee, Assembly Appropriations Committee, and Assembly Floor. It has now been approved by the state’s Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee and is moving to the Senate Appropriation Committee for voting. The bill may become one of many future new legislative acts needed to address the threats of a California wildfire season which is continually growing in duration and severity.

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Kayla Barton

Kayla is a writer and historian from the Eastern Sierra. - TIP JAR

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