In late December, President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and according to the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) that is a good thing. AHRI is a newly formed association that combined the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA.)

“The bill provides incentives and standards for both commercial and residential users to upgrade their heating and cooling equipment to more efficient choices with the goal of reducing energy consumption,” said Stephen Yurek, president of AHRI. “We commend Congress for passing it and President Bush for signing it into law.”

This large piece of legislation, affecting multiple industries, now has the power to affect the HVACR industry as well. With his signature, President Bush gave the Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to establish regional standards for residential furnaces and central air conditioning equipment.

“The standards will set minimum efficiency levels based on different regional climates,” reported AHRI. “The DOE now has the authority to establish up to three U.S. regions for cooling and two regions for heating.”

Early in the process, there was much debate about the effect of regional standards on the HVACR industry. Initially, each of the industry’s major associations gathered to combat this legislation and avoid the proposed regional standards. The Heating, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), led a strong charge, calling contractors to make their opinions known to Congress.

As time passed, however, the passage of this legislation became more imminent. The dreaded regional efficiency standards were embedded deep within an incredibly large bill that called for, among other things, the raising of the average fuel economy for cars and SUVs, the requirement of utilities to take a portion of their energy from renewable sources, and the provision of federal subsidies for energy companies to turn coal into gasoline. According to ACCA, much of Congress wasn’t even aware that regional efficiency standards for heating and cooling were in the law, let alone what they would mean for the HVACR industry.

With this in mind, AHRI and other organizations began moving forward with a new strategy.

“We have always been opposed to regional standards, and if we had our way, there would always be one national standard,” said Francis Dietz, vice president of public affairs for the former ARI. “It became clear that when the Democrats regained control of Congress, however, that an energy bill would likely pass and that it likely would contain regional standards provisions. We also knew that the environmental interest group community would be pushing hard for regional standards.

“Knowing this, it made sense to engage those groups and congressional staff on the issue so that if regional provisions were included in the bill, at least we would have had a role in shaping what they would be.”

AHRI’s involvement in the wording of the bill allowed the association to soften the language and lessen the blow of regional standards. “Early drafts of the bill would have allowed many more regions to be included in the regional standards scheme,” explained Dietz. “In fact, California sought the right to have as many as 16 different regions in their state alone. Obviously, that would not have worked from our perspective, not to mention HARDI’s or ACCA’s.

“If we had done nothing but oppose, we would not have had a seat at the table, and regulations would have been dictated to us, rather than us having an opportunity to help shape them.”

This amended wording includes requirements and stipulations that must be met before the DOE can establish regional standards. The DOE must demonstrate that the regional standard will achieve substantially greater savings than that of a single national standard; it must be technologically feasible and economically justified; and it cannot result in any significant burden on manufacturing, marketing, distribution, sale or servicing of covered products on a national basis.

According to Don Davis, vice president of government affairs for the former ARI, the effort was successful in making the following changes to the final bill:

• All provisions discussing multiple performance standards were removed.

• All provisions allowing “state high performance building codes/standards” were removed.

• Language was included to establish standards for single packaged vertical units and three-phase equipment.

• Language was included to establish standards for walk-in refrigerators and freezers.

• Language was corrected to restore proper timelines (compliance dates) for National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 (NAECA) and Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) equipment.

In addition, compromise language negotiated by AHRI “modified the bill to exclude commercial equipment, prevent burdensome labeling requirements, and release manufacturers from liability,” pointed out Davis.

The bill enacts into law a consensus agreement between AHRI and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) that establishes federal standards for walk-in refrigerators and freezers, reported AHRI. It becomes effective Jan. 1, 2009.

“Inclusion of this standard will result in significant energy-use reductions for America’s businesses that use these products,” said Yurek. “It also is a perfect example of the benefit of industry and energy efficiency advocates working together for the good of the nation.”

Correcting a technical error in the 2005 energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 now allows implementation of federal standards, raising the efficiency level for three-phase, less than 65,000 BTU, to 13 SEER; and implementing the ASHRAE 90.1 standard for single-package vertical units. Both will become effective by June 15, 2008.

“The air conditioning and heating industry is pleased to have played an integral role in developing and raising standards for its equipment, which will result in significant energy savings for the country,” said Yurek. “We hope Americans will embrace this new law and take advantage of the array of energy-efficient heating, cooling, and commercial refrigeration equipment manufactured by our members.”

Publication date:01/14/2008