More Cooling with Less (Global) Warming: Moving Forward on Obama's Climate Plan with Efficiency Rules for Commercial Fridges and Freezers

When the Department of Energy took another step forward in fulfilling its commitment to issue long overdue energy-saving standards yesterday, it proposed two rules that could make significant headway in meeting the president’s carbon reduction target.

In issuing proposed energy efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration equipment and walk-in coolers and freezers the Department of Energy (DOE) kept its promise to act on them by the end of this month. This means three long-overdue standards have been issued in August (the one for metal halide lamps was released earlier this month) and a fourth delayed energy-saving proposal – for electric motors – should be on track for November.

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DOE committed in an Aug. 9 letter to a coalition of 10 states, the City of New York, NRDC and consumer groups that it would release the overdue standards, which together could save utility customers more than $3.8 billion annually once in full effect  and enough electricity to power almost 4 million homes.

Yesterday, DOE took the next step by releasing these two energy-saving proposals for commercial refrigeration equipment and walk-in coolers and freezers commonly found in grocery stores, restaurants, and other food storage and service establishments.

Walk-in coolers and freezers are large insulated refrigerated spaces that, as their name implies, are generally large enough to walk-in to. They are often found in the back storage area of a grocery store or restaurant to keep large amounts of refrigerated or frozen food fresh before it is put on display or served to the customer. Commercial refrigeration equipment, on the other hand, is the refrigerated and frozen food display cases that customers shop from in the front of these stores and come in a variety of shapes and sizes: from the open-air cases that often keep yogurt and butter cool in grocery stores to the ice cream freezer by the counter of the convenience store.

If adopted as proposed, the Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that these two rules would reduce energy bills by $28 billion over the life of the rule, while reducing energy use by 6.4 quadrillion BTU (“quads”) cumulatively! Given that the entire country uses approximately 100 quads a year, this is a big energy savings. The rule for walk-in coolers and freezers alone would on average save enough energy annually to power 15 percent of the entire commercial refrigeration sector in the United States. And higher energy savings mean less need for dirty power generation that pollutes our air and threatens the health of our children and everyone else.

These energy savings will result in significant emissions reductions: 355 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the 30-year life of the rule. If the rules are finalized as proposed, these numbers will make a good dent in President Obama’s goal of 3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution reduction by 2030 from efficiency standards established during his presidency (1.8 billion metric tons of savings are already on the books from standards set to date).  

The newest proposed standards are long overdue. The rule for commercial refrigeration equipment was due this past January and the rule for walk-in coolers and freezers was due in January 2012. Both rules were subject to protracted reviews by the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which has been a major cause of the delay. In particular, the walk-in coolers rule was held up by OIRA for almost two years, despite the major potential energy savings. 

But both OIRA and the Department of Energy have new leadership now. During the confirmation process, both new OIRA head Howard Shelanski and recently appointed DOE Secretary Ernie Moniz pledged to break the standards logjam to help support the president’s mission to reduce our nation’s carbon pollution.  

It’s great to see DOE finally moving forward on both of these latest rules, which the agency has committed to finalize by early next year. We’ll continue to be vigilant to make sure DOE fulfills its promise to issue these and other energy-saving rules needed to fulfill the president’s Climate Action Plan.