Efficiency Standards: A Few Steps Forward, A Few Steps Back

Credit: DOE

First, some good news: After a lengthy and illegal delay, the Trump Administration finally announced that new bipartisan energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans, which will save consumers up to $12 billion over the next 30 years, will become effective on September 30th. NRDC, joined by consumer advocates, other energy efficiency advocates, 10 states and the City of New York, had filed a lawsuit challenging this delay on March 31. Three more delayed standards for other equipment, including pool pumps and central air conditioners, will also move forward.

Now here’s the rub: five additional energy efficiency standards—already vetted by industry and efficiency advocates—are still being illegally delayed. On April 3, NRDC and the same coalition mentioned above sent the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) a notice of intent to sue if  these standards are not published in the Federal Register to trigger their effective dates.  

What’s even more troubling is that the administration has proposed crippling the office responsible for the standards by slashing its funding 70 percent, while at the same time, making an official request for comments concerning DOE “regulations, paperwork requirements and other regulatory obligations that can be modified or repealed…”.  A budget cut like that could make it impossible for the Department of Energy to meet the deadlines and requirements established by Congress to review and strengthen energy efficiency standards for more than 60 household and commercial products.

So despite a few bright spots, there’s a dark cloud hovering over one of the most popular and successful energy programs ever.

Energy efficiency standards save the average American household $500 every year in energy costs thanks to refrigerators, heating systems and other equipment that perform better than ever using less energy. By 2035, the savings will reach a cumulative $2.4 trillion nationwide. Efficiency standards allow manufacturers, who in many cases work collaboratively to set them, to invest with certainty in upgrading their products and remain competitive. In fact, energy efficiency has led to the creation of 2.2 million U.S. jobs, mainly in construction and manufacturing. It’s consumers, workers, and manufacturers who end up paying for illegal energy efficiency delays and funding cuts.

If the DOE actually follows through with the ceiling fan rule becoming effective at the end of September—and NRDC is in court to make sure it does—this is one bit of welcome news. Ceiling fans are found in 80 million homes, and approximately 20 million new ceiling fans are shipped annually in the United States. The new standard will cut the energy use of new fans by more than 25 percent, saving consumers up to $12 billion over the next 30 years and enough electricity to power 17 million U.S. households for a year.

The other standards going into effect

Credit: DOE

Similarly, the three standards on pool pumps, residential central air conditioners and heat pumps, and beverage coolers, which DOE has now allowed to go in to effect, will save $47 billion for consumers and cut 500 million metric tons of carbon pollution over 30 years of shipments. Swimming pool pumps meeting the new standard will use 70 percent less energy than many pool pumps on the market today, and consumers with in-ground pools will save more than $2,000 on average over the 4- to 7-year lifetime of the pump. This is the first national standard for this product, and the standard was set through a negotiation between advocates, manufacturers, and DOE.

The updated standard for central residential air conditioners and heat pumps will shave 7 percent off the current standard, but represents a 50 percent increase in savings from when the first standards were issued in 1992. Cumulatively, the new standards will cut electricity use by 340 billion kilowatt-hours over 30 years of shipments, which is equivalent to the power used to cool all U.S. homes for more than a year and a half. This is a great example of the incremental cost-effective savings that are achievable when existing standards are further improved.

The beverage cooler standard is also the first of its kind. This standard covers wine coolers or beverage centers, which are increasingly popular and are now found in almost 10 percent of U.S. households. Consumers will save up to $265 over the lifetime of these products. This standard was set through a negotiation between energy efficiency advocates, manufacturers, and the DOE.

The standards in limbo

Meanwhile, NRDC is fighting the illegal delays of five more standards. These include the first-ever national standards for uninterruptible power supplies, the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out; as well as portable air conditioners, air compressors, walk-in coolers and freezers, and commercial packaged boilers. These five standards alone will generate more than $11 billion in energy bill savings, as well as 25 million metric tons of climate pollution reductions over 30 years of shipments—and they are being held in limbo for no reason.  

Efficiency standards have a long history of bipartisan support and have already delivered approximately $2 trillion on their utility bills since the program was started under President ReaganEnergy efficiency standards have spurred American innovation, protected American-made products from inferior imports and slashed energy bills for American consumers. But under the draconian budget cuts proposed by the Trump Administration, it’s hard to imagine how staff at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) could properly update energy efficiency standards as they are required by law, or enforce the ones that are in effect.

By holding back energy efficiency standards, the Trump administration is turning its back on a program that protects consumers, creates jobs, and boosts domestic manufacturing—all while reducing the need to build more expensive and polluting power plants.

It’s against the law to block or delay new energy efficiency standards. It defies common sense to attack a program that’s a proven trillion-dollar success.