WASHINGTON - A coalition of consumer, energy, and environmental organizations criticized the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for what it said are “extraordinarily weak” new furnace and boiler energy efficiency standards. The groups said that, not only are the new standards little changed from the original levels set by Congress 20 years ago, but also 99 percent of natural gas furnaces currently sold already meet the new minimum efficiency level.

”DOE has delivered a turkey of an efficiency rule,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “This Thanksgiving, that’s bitter news for Americans who care about global warming, high energy prices, and our dependence on overseas energy.”

The organizations noted that the new standard only increases the minimum gas furnace efficiency level to 80 percent from the current level of 78 percent. The rule also modestly increases the standards for oil furnaces and oil and gas boilers, which, on a national basis, are installed far less commonly than gas furnaces.

“Our country cannot create a sustainable energy and climate future through incrementalism,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. “We need bold action from our government, but instead, for the second time in a row, DOE has issued a very weak efficiency standard that once again leaves important energy and CO2 savings ‘on the table’ at a time when we can least afford continued waste.”

According to the organizations, a gas furnace standard at 90 percent efficiency - an efficiency level currently met by about one-third of all sales - would save a typical consumer about 11 percent off of their home heating bills relative to the current minimum efficiency units available. On average nationally, families who heat with natural gas will spend about $1,000 on their winter heating bills this winter. In some of the coldest states, they will spend more.

Under the terms of a 2005 consent decree resulting from a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and 10 states, DOE must complete 22 legally overdue efficiency standards according to a court-monitored schedule. In August, DOE asked the overseeing court for more time to complete the furnace rulemaking. According to an affidavit filed by David Rodgers, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency, the agency wanted more time in order to consider a more stringent 90 percent AFUE level. In addition, DOE wanted to consider the impact of higher efficiencies on natural gas prices, in response to comments from Dow Chemical and NRDC, which had argued that improved furnace efficiency would benefit all consumers by reducing natural gas demand, and therefore prices.

“DOE didn’t need a do-over because they already had a more than adequate record to set a strong standard,” said Charles Harak of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). He stated that DOE’s plea for more time rang hollow given the agency was already 13 years behind legal deadlines in finishing the new standard. Also, it was noted that a 90 percent efficiency standard had been part of the agency analysis since 2001, and Dow and NRDC first raised the effect of gas savings on gas prices in 2004. Therefore, it was not surprising that, in late October, the court rejected the agency’s request for more time to consider higher standards.

“Based on their appeal for more time to consider higher standards, even DOE appears to know they’ve set too weak a standard,” said deLaski. “Given the savings at stake, DOE should act immediately to open a new rulemaking to reconsider higher standards.”

Publication date:11/19/2007