The California Energy Commission this week unanimously approved a new set of building guidelines that have some of the strongest energy efficiency standards in the nation. In addition to the more typical updated regulations regarding window insulation, lighting, and air-conditioning systems, the new guidelines will require all new residential and commercial buildings to have "solar ready roofs."
Just to be clear, the regulations don't require the installation of solar panels. However, under the new guidelines roofs should be better able to accommodate a solar power system. Ideally, part of an angled roof should face south, have as much access as possible to unobstructed sun for most of the day, and have skylights and chimneys that work around the system.
"This will be great for everybody who buys a house and wants to put solar on the roof," Commissioner Karen Douglas said. "Your roof must be able to support a solar photovoltaic system."
The standards are due to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
The new rules come under a 1978 law that has, the Los Angeles Times points out, "made California structures and appliances the nation's most efficient." The commission says that those standards -- which also include appliances such as televisions -- have saved Californians $66 billion on their energy bills.
The Sacramento Bee reports that the new standards got "grudging approval" from the homebuilding industry and commercial building owners," but they received "broad support from investor-owned utilities ... environmental groups, local government building inspection officials and high-tech businesses developing environmentally friendly building products."
Solar Ready Roofs: California's New Homebuilding Standard
Cardiovascular cases: 173,566
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 3
Bakersfield sits in a bowl surrounded on three sides by the Sierras and the California coastal ranges. Air drifts down the valley from other cities and lingers, allowing pollutants to build up, according to Jaime Holt, chief communications officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality District. Making matters worse, the sun bakes the air, causing photochemical smog. And the dry weather adds dust particles to the mix.
But there have been efforts to clean up Bakersfield's act. Regulations governing emissions from surrounding oil and gas producers that took effect in 2003 have helped to significantly reduce pollution in the area, said Holt.
Area farmers have also changed many of their practices. They now refrain from cultivating when the ground is too dry, for example, in order to reduce dust. And regulations limiting residential use of fireplaces and wood stoves have also helped.
"We have some crystal clear days here now, where you can see snow in the Sierras," said Holt. "But then they can go away for weeks at a time."
Cardiovascular cases: 31,019
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 5
This small metro area should boast azure skies but, too often, the polluted air from Fresno, its neighbor to the North, drifts in, said Jaime Holt, chief communications officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality District.
It doesn't help that many of the local residents are also driving older cars that often produce much higher levels of the components that create smog.
One solution to that problem is a recently instituted smog check program called "Tune in, Tune up" run by the Air Quality District.
The state agency sets up in a big empty parking lot and gives free smog tests. "The cars that can't pass get a $500 voucher for a major tune up," said Holt.
Cardiovascular cases: 4,109,426
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 1
One of Los Angeles' biggest pollution problems is its ports.
"Forty-three percent of all the imports in the country come through here," said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. "Once the cargo comes in, it gets put on a truck, moved to warehouses and taken to trains. Almost everything is powered by diesel."
There have been several efforts made to cut back on this diesel-related pollution. One is the voluntary slowing of ships as they come into port, starting from about 24 nautical miles out. By doing so, the ships burn less fuel and produce lower emissions.
The port is also upgrading facilities so ships can plug into electricity from shore and rely less on running their auxiliary engines.
The state is also dealing with pollution on the road by imposing strict gasoline regulations that cut toxic chemicals like benzene.
"When I first flew out here in 1987 to interview for a job, I almost had a panic attack," said Atwood. "I was 10 miles from the mountains and I couldn't see them. That doesn't happen anymore."
Cardiovascular cases: 89,570
Rank in most ozone-polluted cities: 2
Lying just south of Fresno, the skies of this small city bear the brunt of some of the pollution produced by its larger neighbor.
But Visalia can't blame it all on Fresno. Agricultural lands surrounding the town depend heavily on irrigation and many of the pumps bringing water to dry farmlands burn diesel, which produces both particle pollution and ozone.
"Over the past few years, most of those diesel pumps have been switched over to electricity," said Holt of the Valley's Air Quality District.
Air quality has also improved, she said, because the agency has used federal and state grants to pay residents to replace wood-burning stoves and fireplaces with gas or electricity.