After seven years of fact finding, information gathering, and feedback from consumer groups, businesses, and manufacturers, the Department of Energy (DOE) has released its proposed new minimum efficiency standards for appliances — and reactions have been swift.

“[DOE] Secretary Bill Richardson deserves credit for seeing the potential in new heat pump and air conditioner standards,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of coalition group Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP). “But, the Administration’s proposal for air conditioners falls well short of what’s needed to have the greatest impact on the nation’s strained power systems and consumers’ electricity bills.”

The proposed new standards, released on Oct. 5, include increasing the heat pump standard by 30% to 13 SEER and the air conditioning standard by 20% to 12 SEER. The current minimum air conditioning standard is 10 SEER. ASAP would like to see at least a 30% improvement for air conditioning, too.

Although the recommendations were just published, it will take a while for the industry to digest the information and comment on it. The people at the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) are bracing for a quick review process.

“ARI will look at it, study it, and distribute it to our members,” said ARI spokesperson Ed Dooley. “The DOE will accept comments for 60 days after the introduction of the proposals, which is a short time period for such a detailed document.”

Once the DOE has reviewed the comments, it will make any changes and ask the Administra-tion to approve the plan before President Clinton leaves office. “It could be the last act of Richardson’s [tenure],” added Dooley.

Impact on Consumers, Manufacturers

ASAP’s deLaski said the DOE’s estimates of additional costs to consumers and manufacturers resulting from the new standards may be a little overstated. “The DOE has historically overestimated the cost of complying to standards. The price increases are based on data from the industry rather than data collected by independent consulting firm Arthur D. Little, Inc., who they hired to study engineering costs,” he said.

The New York Times reported that the standards would raise the cost of central air conditioners by $274 and heat pumps by $486, quoting a DOE source who said the added costs for central air and heat pumps would be greater than the cost of the energy saved. However, The Times went on to say that the reduced need for new power plants might make up the price difference.

DeLaski disputed the figures, but acknowledged that the new standards will be costly.

“The Administration’s proposal will please some in the air conditioner manufacturing industry,” he said, “but at an enormous cost to the power grid, to consumers, and the environment. The DOE said consumers will see an average savings of $45 over the life of an air conditioner and $215 over the life of a heat pump. It’s not a lot, but the standards don’t exist to save consumers money.”

DeLaski said the A.D. Little report showed savings of $113 and $372, respectively. “The DOE was also given an estimate of how emerging technologies would drive down the cost of the new standards but they chose not to use that data, either,” he said. “We [ASAP] project that the estimated operating costs will be lower.”

Societal Influence

ARI, along with ASAP, pointed out how new efficiency standards will have a “societal” effect on consumers. The institute stated that “The goal should be a standard that balances the needs of America’s diverse population and the benefits of higher efficiency.

“Air conditioning contributes significantly to the quality of life, and in many parts of this country it serves as a lifesaver during heat waves.”

Dooley concluded that “Raising efficiency is not just about raising comfort levels; it is a societal thing, too. What is considered safe and imperative for people in Texas [during a heat wave] is not the same for people in other states.”

David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, summed the issue up this way: “We are at a critical point in our nation’s energy policy, with high prices and overloaded supply systems threatening our economic health as well as the environment.

“Secretary Richardson has a golden opportunity to get this key policy decision right. If he fails, we all lose.”

Publication date: 10/16/2000