HVAC industry groups are hailing federal legislation that would define nationwide deadlines for meeting new energy-efficiency requirements based on the date equipment is manufactured or imported rather than the date it’s installed.

The SMART Energy Efficiency Standards Act was introduced this summer by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, who represents several communities in the Phoenix area.

Her one-sentence proposal would amend the Energy Policy and Conservation Act so that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in updating efficiency requirements, would set a date by which all newly manufactured or newly imported products must meet or exceed new standards. Current rules allow for date-of-installation deadlines, which critics say are burdensome for distributors and contractors who may risk being stuck with equipment that cannot be legally installed in their region of the country but met efficiency requirements at the time it was produced.

“Regional HVAC standards are the only Department of Energy efficiency standard that uses date of installation to determine compliance,” said Talbot Gee, CEO of Heating Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI). “Distributors are asked to risk millions of dollars to have the products the market demands in inventory, and this flaw in the statute directly penalizes HVAC distributors and ultimately hurts consumers while doing nothing to actually improve energy efficiency or carbon emission savings.”

“The bill is a common-sense solution to an unnecessary problem,” said Chris Czarnecki, director of government relations and advocacy at Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). “It simply changes compliance from ‘date of installation’ to ‘date of manufacture,’ meaning that if it’s passed into law, any system that was manufactured in accordance with guidelines in place at the time could be legally installed anywhere in the country.”

Czarnecki and Alex Ayers, HARDI’s government affairs director, both said their organizations will lobby in favor of Lesko’s proposal. The bill is currently in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, of which Lesko is a member.

The 2023 regional DOE energy-efficiency requirements that kicked in on January 1 defined compliance deadlines, for a/c products, differently in different parts of the country: Those manufactured through 2022 that met the requirements in place at that time can continue to be installed in the North, but in states in the Southeast and Southwest, a/c units installed after December 31, 2022 had to meet or exceed the new standards.

That created inefficiencies, critics say.

“The (stranded) equipment is still installed, but now with extra trucking to get it to the new location,” said Ayers. “Based on our calculation, if a single unit is transported 600 miles, which is often less miles than it takes to leave the region where it cannot be installed, the amount of fuel used to transport it (represents) more energy than the entire lifetime energy savings of the unit.”

Lesko’s bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Robert Latta, R-Ohio, who represents several communities in Northern Ohio.

“Regional standards created by the Department of Energy set up two different compliance dates, which created unnecessary confusion and burdened distributors, who were left with unusable products,” Lesko said in a press release. “While our nation is facing supply-chain and cost-of-living crises, we should not be making it harder for consumers to obtain appliances.”

Samantha Slater, vice president of government affairs at The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), said the industry has been pushing for such legislation for some time, and last came close to getting a version passed in 2014.

“It just didn’t get across the finish line,” she said. “It was so close.”

Slater said the measure’s best chance this time around might come if it’s tacked onto a larger bill toward the end of the year.

“It’s not something that’s going to move on a stand-alone basis,” she said. “It’s usually included in a larger energy package.”