DOE Looks to Boost Efficiency Standard to 13 SEER

January 19, 2001
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ARLINGTON, VA — In an action certain to arouse Congressional and legal challenges, the Clinton administration apparently will order a 30% increase in the minimum efficiency standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps, an action that industry sources said would impose an unfair, multi-billion dollar burden on consumers.

Industry sources said the jump in the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) from SEER 10 to SEER 13 was approved for publication in the “Federal Register” by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), with strong backing from Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. The Clinton administration was trying to beat a noon, January 20 deadline.

It was unclear at press time whether the regulation would be printed before or after the Clinton administration officially leaves office. However, the rule could be challenged in the Congress, which can overturn regulations, or in federal court. Industry sources said challenges are likely due to the impact of the rule and the irregular process by which the DOE approved the rule.

The rule does not take effect until January 1, 2006.



ARI NOT HAPPY

Representatives of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and unitary equipment manufacturers recently met with officials of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to protest the proposed increase, which has drawn criticism from the U.S. Department of Justice. ARI and its members supported a 20 percent increase and provided testimony to refute claims that the higher SEER was needed to stave off energy shortages during peak use in states like California. OMB was reminded that DOE had not even proposed a SEER 13 for central air conditioners and that there was no public notice.

ARI argued that it would take 5-10 years for any impact on energy efficiency in California, where there would be only minimal benefit at peak energy usage. ARI believes DOE has used the energy shortage in California, which has struggled with energy deregulation, as justification for higher SEER standards.

“Due to the prolonged silence from anyone in authority, we can only presume the worst,” said Ed Dooley, vice president of Communications at ARI. “This will be a cruel blow for working families and those on fixed incomes for whom air conditioning can be a life saver. We should not adopt a federal standard that discourages people from replacing older, less-efficient units and denies them the choice of models that best suits their needs.

“A more moderate approach, such as 12 SEER, makes sense in a country as varied as the United States.”



TAX INCENTIVES, TOO

ARI also said tax incentives enacted by Congress and the states would encourage purchase of higher efficiency equipment and especially benefit California and other parts of the country suffering from electricity shortages.

In a statement to the Washington Post, David M. Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said, “If the administration had done this in 1994, by our projections, it would have lowered California’s peak electric demands by 400 megawatts today.”

ARI said that tax incentives are needed to shift consumers to a better understanding of the benefits of higher efficiency equipment as a way to reduce homeowner operating costs and electric generation by power plants.

Due to equipment redesign, the average SEER for all units shipped in the U.S. improved dramatically since the early 1980s with central air conditioners 40% more efficient and heat pumps 46% more efficient.

The association noted the importance of proper installation of central systems to achieve full efficiency gains manufactured into the equipment. It urged the DOE to support actively certification of installers and maintenance personnel through the program offered by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), including marketing the use of certified technicians to consumers.

Publication date: 01/22/2001

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