A pair of bills recently introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are aimed at fixing a technicality that has left the owners of some small businesses without the types of water heaters needed for their operations.
The tandem proposals, S. 4061 and H.R. 7962, would expand and clarify the definition of a water heater in order to align with a test-procedure rule that has required manufacturers to rate some types of commercial water heaters using the energy-efficiency standards for residential models.
“This created turmoil within the industry and resulted in property owners and small business owners spending resources to find alternative solutions because the commercial water heating equipment that fit their needs was no longer available,” according to a statement from the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), a trade group that represents HVACR manufacturers.
“We’ve been working on this for quite some time,” said Samantha Slater, AHRI’s senior vice president for government affairs, by phone recently. There is broad recognition in Washington, D.C., that the changes need to be made, Slater said, adding that she’s optimistic that the House and Senate will pass the legislation by the end of the year.
“There is a good understanding of why this is necessary,” she said.
After the test-procedure rule was issued in late November 2016 by the Department of Energy (DOE), the work-around for obtaining certain kinds of commercial water heaters had been a non-enforcement policy regarding that test-procedure rule, Slater said. But that policy expired at the end of last year, prompting the new legislation.
“The Department of Energy told us a long time ago that this change would need to be statutory and we would need to go to Congress and work with Congress to get this fix made,” Slater said.
Meanwhile, some small businesses have been affected by the glitch.
“There is a class of customer that has been affected by this and cannot get the equipment they want at the moment,” Slater said. Nail salons and small eateries, she said, are examples of the kinds of businesses that have been affected, she said.
The bills would modify the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. In addition to clarifying how a water heater is defined, the bills would also revise energy conservation standards, set forth labeling requirements for water heaters, and require the DOE to determine whether electric storage water heaters should have demand-response features, according to an official summary. Demand-response capability could ease those water heaters’ draw on the power grid during times of peak electricity use.
Ahead of a recent House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on H.R. 7962, AHRI sent a letter to the leadership of both the House and Senate energy committees that expressed support for the changes.
“This bipartisan bill will realign the legal definitions of commercial and residential water heating equipment, enable more appropriate product choices for small businesses, and provide business certainty for water heater manufacturers,” said Stephen Yurek, the AHRI president and CEO, in the letter.
S. 4061, co-sponsored by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, is pending in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. H.R. 7962, introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, and co-sponsored by Dingell and 11 other House members, is pending in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on energy.