Mike Murphy

The State of California is serious about one-upping federal efficiency standards. The same week that prominent Republican Governor “I’ll Be Back” was courting President George Bush to gain a more favorable disaster declaration of the fire-ravaged state, he also slapped the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a lawsuit for dragging its feet with regard to a waiver that would allow the state to apply more stringent automobile efficiency standards than those required by the federal government. According to an article in USA Today, the lawsuit’s outcome could affect not only the California law aimed at cutting greenhouse gases but also the ability of other states to take similar actions.

Fourteen states have already announced their intentions to follow California’s lead.

What does this have to do with the price of eggs in China, you may wonder?

A battle to override federal efficiency standards for HVAC appliances is being waged on Capitol Hill - and, you guessed it, California is once again leading the charge. In addition, almost 14 states have indicated a desire to supersede federal requirements. (Funny how that No. 14 keeps popping up, isn’t it?)

RISING COSTS

Automakers prefer a national policy, not a patchwork quilt of state-by-state standards that would hurt sales and ultimately, make customers unhappy. The HVAC industry finds itself in the same situation, as manufacturers could be forced to create different products to meet varied standards, thus complicating everything from materials purchasing to inventory control across state lines and regional markets.

And, yes, customers could be left holding the bag as prices could easily ratchet up to account for less efficient manufacturing processes. In other words, the efficiency gains that could be reaped with more stringent requirements might be negated by customers who decline to purchase the more expensive products that have a longer payback on the investment. Rather, the customers might simply have their ailing equipment repaired.

There are those who would suggest that the transition to 13 SEER equipment may have created a slowdown in new equipment sales. One major component supplier recently acknowledged that sales are off nearly 20 percent for the year, indicating that the repair rather than replace mentality may be catching on. As further evidence, most service contractors are as busy as they ever were, though some companies that are more dependent upon new equipment sales are struggling.

AS CALIFORNIA GOES, SO GOES THE NATION

The old political adage credits California with trendsetting powers for political elections. In fact, the Golden State flexed its muscle in 2003 with the rousing ouster of incumbent Governor Gray Davis in a special election. Enter Governor “I’ll Be Back” who has quite a liberal bent for a Republican. Can you can see where this is heading?

If California successfully establishes its own energy standards for automobiles, it really isn’t too much of a stretch to expect that HVAC equipment will be next in line. As referenced earlier, there is already language contained in versions of two energy bills (House and Senate) that would allow for regional, or state-by-state, energy standards for heating and air conditioning appliances.

If you have a concern for the future of regional HVAC energy-efficiency standards, now would be a good time to make yourself heard through any number of associations that work on Capitol Hill for your benefit. Here are a few places to learn more about how you can become involved: www.acca.org, www.mcaa.org, www.phccweb.org, www.ari.org, or www.gamanet.org.

Publication date: 11/19/2007