On September 30, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 1206, which prohibits the sale or distribution of bulk HFCs that exceed a specified GWP. This means that in the near future, it will no longer be possible to buy virgin refrigerants, such as R-410A, R-404A, and R-134a, and reclaimed refrigerant will be the only option to service existing air conditioners and commercial refrigeration equipment.
Under the new bill, starting January 1, 2025, the sale of bulk refrigerants exceeding GWP 2,200 GWP ― such as R-404A and R-507 ― will no longer be allowed. As of January 1, 2030, the GWP may not exceed 1,500, so the sale of bulk R-410A will be prohibited, and on January 1, 2033, the GWP may not exceed 750 (e.g., popular refrigeration retrofit refrigerants such as R-448A and R-449A).
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), said that her bill was necessary because, “Californians agree the magnitude of the climate crisis demands we accelerate action now. SB 1206 will buy us precious time in our fight to protect the climate by cutting emissions of the powerful but short-lived pollutants used in refrigerators and air conditioners.”
Barton James, president and CEO of Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), disagrees, noting that the bill is bad news for all Californians. He believes residents of the state would derive more benefit from properly installed equipment rather than a refrigerant ban.
“With less than 10% compliance on enforcement of how HVAC systems are installed in California, it's a farce to think that any new piece of legislation is going to make a difference on refrigerants. These are closed loop systems, and when installed correctly, we shouldn’t have a problem,” he said. “California just continues to go down this rabbit hole, and they really don't care how the rubber will meet the road, which tends to be the California way. They have no realization about the cost to consumers, which will ultimately get passed down from manufacturers.”
ACCA's position from the beginning has been to promote the regulation of refrigerants at the national level, not state-by-state, said James. “California is literally the poster child of the problem,” he said.
HARDI is also very disappointed to see California “ignore the international phasedown schedule of HFCs and choose to disproportionately impact the state’s residents by banning certain service gases,” said Alex Ayers, director of government affairs at HARDI.
“Unfortunately, even though this is a compromise position from the original proposal, the support of environmental groups for this policy is likely to make it spread to other states and make a smooth transition even harder,” he said. “We encourage the industry to look out for the best interests of consumers if any other states attempt to follow California’s lead and wholly oppose any attempts to make a patchwork phasedown schedule.”
More to Come
In addition to the ban on sales of bulk HFC refrigerants, the bill prohibits California from using non-reclaimed HFCs with GWP greater than 750 to fix leaks on service stationary equipment owned or operated by the state, starting January 1, 2025. By that date, the bill also directs the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to detail sector-based regulations that will transition the state’s economy away from HFCs to ultra-low or no GWP alternatives no later than 2035. CARB is also tasked with providing recommendations for how to establish a robust reclamation system for HFCs with higher GWP.
California has a history of legislating the use of HFCs, as in December, 2020 it was the first state to adopt regulations to phase down the use of HFC refrigerants in commercial and industrial stationary refrigeration units, as well as commercial and residential air conditioning equipment. Under these new rules, there is now a 150 GWP limit for new or fully remodeled California facilities that utilize commercial refrigeration equipment containing more than 50 pounds of refrigerant. Starting January 1, 2025, the GWP limit for many types of air conditioning equipment will be 750.
The state is mandated to reduce HFC emissions 40% below 2013 levels by 2030, and the ban on service refrigerants is thought to help reach that goal. In addition, California will ban the installation of new natural gas furnaces in 2030, and the sale of new gas-powered cars will be no longer be allowed in 2035.
Under SB 1206, a person shall not offer for sale or distribution, or otherwise enter into commerce in the state, bulk HFCs or bulk blends containing HFCs that exceed the following GWP limits:
- Beginning January 1, 2025, the GWP shall not exceed 2,200;
- Beginning January 1, 2030, the GWP shall not exceed 1,500; and
- Beginning January 1, 2033, the GWP shall not exceed 750.