Cool Efficiency Standard Freed, 4 Others Still Held Hostage

The Department of Energy just announced it will publish in the Federal Register the energy efficiency standards for the commercial walk-in coolers and freezers found in almost every restaurant, supermarket, and convenience store in America—completing the final step for this standard, while leaving four other efficiency rules illegally held hostage by the agency.

The guidelines for coolers and freezers were one of five energy efficiency standards that NRDC and others last month sued the Department of Energy (DOE) to release. Still being unlawfully held are guidelines for: commercial and industrial air compressors, portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, and commercial packaged boilers.

While we are encouraged by DOE’s decision to release the standards for walk-in coolers and freezers, the other four rules being withheld make just as much sense for saving energy and the environment, and there is no good reason for DOE to continue to delay them. Collectively, the five efficiency standards could generate more than $11 billion in energy bill savings and reduce carbon pollution by 25 million metric tons.

Walk-ins are large refrigerated coolers and freezers used to temporarily store frozen food and perishable goods. The standards were developed through a negotiated rulemaking process that included a wide range of stakeholders including leading equipment manufacturers and efficiency advocates. The new standards will save 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity over 30 years, equivalent to the annual electricity use of about 7 million U.S. homes, and avoid 46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions during the same period. That’s equivalent to the emissions of nearly 10 million cars driven for one year.

In addition to the environmental benefits, businesses are expected to gain up to $3 billion in savings. The new standards will take effect on July 10, 2020.

Free the four

NRDC and Earthjustice–representing the Sierra Club and the Consumer Federation of America–sent a letter on April 3 threatening to sue the DOE if it did not release the energy efficiency standards by publishing them in the Federal Register within 60 days. When the deadline passed, the groups filed suit June 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. A separate state coalition lawsuit also was filed, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and joined by the attorney generals for Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington, along with the City of New York.

Making the DOE’s current position even more untenable is that all the pending standards went through exhaustive, painstaking, years-long development processes that involved manufacturers, environmental interests, and the DOE staff itself. The DOE approved the five standards in December, launching a 45-day “error correction” period to address any specific drafting-error technical issues. Corrections were requested only for the commercial boiler standard, but even in that case DOE still has a legal duty to publish a corrected standard if the identified errors are legitimated.

According to law, all the standards should have been published in the Federal Register as official rules months ago. Delaying them is not only illegal, it sticks consumers with billions of dollars in unnecessary electricity costs, hurts manufacturers who have prepared and begun making investments to meet the standards, and erects yet another roadblock to a common-sense effort to address climate change.

More than a dozen Senate Democrats further underscored this point in a letter to Secretary Perry last month, stating that the department might be violating the law by not publishing these efficiency standards.

Progress being obstructed

Here is a break out of the four additional standards that are being withheld and what Americans are losing in the delay.

Air Compressors: Air compressors are found throughout the manufacturing industry and are used to power everything from robotics to commercial grade sprayers, and even pump air into tires. DOE estimates new standards for compressors will save consumers and businesses $36 million to $45 million off utility bills annually, or $200 million to $400 million over the lifespan of the machines. Payback on new equipment is calculated at 2.5 to 5 years, with the typical lifespan of a compressor being 13 years.

Portable Air Conditioners: The efficiency standard that was negotiated for portable air conditioners was the first one ever for the ubiquitous machines. While window air conditioners have been subject to standards for more than 25 years, portable air conditioners have not been covered by any rule. The now-pending standard would save an average of $125 over the lifetime of the equipment and cut energy use by more than 20 percent. Carbon emissions will be cut by 25.6 million metric tons, equivalent to the annual emissions of 5.4 million cars. 

Uninterruptible Power Supplies: More efficient uninterruptible power supplies (the battery backup systems that keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out), will save up to $3 billion in electric bills over 30 years, an energy savings of 15 percent compared to no standard. An estimated 49 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will be avoided. Enough energy will be saved to power 7 million U.S. homes for a year.

Commercial Packaged Boilers: Commercial packaged boilers heat nearly one-quarter of the commercial floor space in the country, as well as some multifamily buildings and small industrial facilities. The new standard would save consumers up to about $2 billion after accounting for the cost of the new equipment. DOE estimates the standard will reduce the energy use by 2 to 6 percent and avoid roughly 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years – the annual equivalent of 3 million cars.

Stronger standards mean a better world

NRDC and the other public interest groups sued DOE to release the standards because energy efficiency is the most cost-effective tool we have to keep pollutants out of the environment.

And standards save consumers money. By 2030, energy efficiency standards will have saved Americans approximately $2 trillion on their utility bills while spurring industrial innovation.

It is beyond time for DOE and the Trump Administration to realize that consumers and business are on the side of energy efficiency standards.