NY’s Golden Appliance Opportunity to Save Lots of $ & Carbon

New York State appliance standards could save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars and cut greenhouse gas pollution.
Pack mules trekking up a mountain
Credit: iStock

How would you and your fellow New Yorkers like to save more than $400 million every year in utility bills in 2025, and even more over time, and have those savings endure… forever? And prevent lots of climate pollution at the same time?

New York has another prime opportunity to tell President Trump and the federal agencies doing his bidding that while they try to roll back, undermine and ruin our chances to keep from wrecking the climate, we’re moving forward the right way, along with our friends in lots of other states that also want to save money while they save the planet.

What’s the marvelous policy that will help get us there? A New York state appliance standards law!

Appliance standards are the pack mules of the efficiency world; they quietly plod along pulling a heavy load of energy and utility bill savings for the state and the country. Models show a set of New York state-specific energy efficiency standards for appliances, equipment, and electronics can save New Yorkers more than $400 million annually on their utility bills in 2025, more than doubling to nearly $1 billion a year in 2035; and these are savings that keep on keeping on.

The federal Department of Energy is now going in reverse on national appliance and product standards: not only has it stopped creating new ones in defiance of the law, but it now is actively digging out the foundations of the whole program (see links above). They’re trying to make one of our best and most effective efficiency programs implode, and steal our savings right out from under our noses. It is estimated that rolling back light bulb standards, for example, would cost New York households almost $1.5 billion in foregone savings in 2025. Appliance standards already have saved Americans $2 TRILLION dollars over the past 30 years; we need to keep that mule on the savings trail, not push it over the edge of the cliff.

ASAP appliance standards infographic
Credit: credit: Appliance Standards Awareness Project appliance-standards.org

New York can join a growing group of states that have been actively advancing state-level standards in the past two years for products not covered by federal standards. This includes our friends in California, Connecticut, Colorado, Washington, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. Working together we can form a bulwark against the rising tide of federal climate erosion, by having new state standards that cover much of the country, including backstops for existing federal standards in case the Trump administration fails to update existing ones or establish new ones in violation of the legal requirements, together guiding the market to a more efficient future. Manufacturers who want to sell their products in these states are unlikely to separately make a less-efficient version to sell in others. As it says in the statewide energy efficiency roadmap, New Efficiency: New York:

As the federal government scales back its role in setting and enforcement of appliance efficiency standards, advancement of standards at the state level is needed. New York’s leadership on this front, together with California and other states, especially in the Northeast, would go far in setting de facto national standards given the size of the consumer market of the states advancing new standards.

State appliance standards, and energy efficiency writ large, save electricity, gas, and oil, and lots of water. They make reaching New York’s nation-leading climate goals easier and cheaper, and reduce demand on constrained utility infrastructure. They help in New York City and in the North Country, from Erie County to Suffolk County, and they save the most money for budgets that are stretched thin, since the high burden of energy costs continues to be a challenge for our low- and moderate-income households.

Illustration of piggy bank for money and energy savings from efficiency
Credit: Jessica Russo

It is late in the legislative session, but there is lots of groundwork that has already been covered en route to passing a New York energy efficiency standards law: NYSERDA has a robust study of potential standards and savings; New Efficiency: New York has these standards already baked into the 185 trillion British Thermal Units of energy savings by 2025 statewide target; many other states have been working through the details as they pass their own laws that we can learn from; and, NRDC and many other stakeholders (like the 16 that sent a letter to Governor Cuomo last month urging action on this issue) are here to help get this over the finish line. This is the right policy and the right time to deliver on this piece of our energy future.

If we need a mascot for our appliance push, we can use our own very New York equine, the mule named Sal, popularized by one of our great New York environmentalists, Pete Seeger. Sal and her driver “haul'd some barges in our day, filled with lumber, coal, and hay” and knew “every inch of the way, From Albany to Buffalo.” Sal provided the mule power for one of our great transformative economic legacies, the Erie Canal, that joined upstate and downstate New York and opened up great new opportunities, connected us to our sister states in the Midwest, and allowed our great state to grow and flourish.

Sal doesn’t haul lumber, coal and hay anymore (certainly not now that New York has completed rules getting rid of all our coal generation by the end of 2020!), and was replaced a century ago by that dirty technological revolution, fossil-fueled engines, but the new, green, efficient mule Sal can take us dependably toward our future of a strong, green economy and environment for New York state, pulling a barge of efficient buildings and appliances, wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries, and bringing savings to our households, both money and carbon, to help us build a brighter, stronger New York for all of us.

“She’s a good old worker and a good old pal,” for sure.

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