Taking the shine out of Energy Star

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has proposed slashing the Energy Star budget by over $10 million, or about 30 % for the rest of this year. That puts the program, and the benefits it delivers, at severe risk.

Since its launch in 1992, Energy Star has earned great consumer recognition and credibility, and many folks look for the logo when it comes time to buy that washing machine, refrigerator, window, or dozens of other products. Importantly, many utilities also recognize the value of Energy Star, and give rebates to customers who buy these more efficient products.

Energy Star has delivered real success, helping consumers save a vast amount of money – more than $17 billion in utility bills in 2009 alone. It has also helped reduce national electricity demand by about 5%, more than the electricity used in the entire state of Georgia, or Ohio. That prevents a lot of pollution, too. In 2009, the saved greenhouse gas emissions were equivalent to getting over 30 million vehicles off the road. Impressive results.

Energy Star has broad support from business, as well, with more than 3000 manufacturing partners, 1,500 retailer partners with over 40,000 stores, and 700 utilities and other energy efficiency sponsors.

These big Energy Star wins for consumers and the economy don't come for free, but they do come fairly cheap: the Energy Star program, managed jointly by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, had a 2010 budget of about $63 million. EPA's analysis shows that for every federal dollar spent, the private sector invests more than $15, and American consumers and businesses save more than $60. Very impressive results.

However, Energy Star faces real challenges that must be addressed to ensure that customers can continue to have confidence in the program. Like any program, Energy Star could be better. EPA and DOE are hard at work on it. For example, they've recently added an independent verification and testing program, pulling samples from the shelf at retail and testing them. They are also working to update product specs more frequently, to keep ahead of as new technology comes to market. This takes money, and is money well spent, helping ensure consumers that the Energy Star product they just bought delivers the energy savings that were promised. Both would be severely set back by the large proposed budget cut.

The proposed budget from the House of Representatives would put the work of Energy Star, and the $17 billion in annual consumer savings, at risk. $17,000 million in consumer savings...that's far too much to lose, just to reduce the federal budget by $10 million.