Colorado Becomes Latest State to Safeguard Energy Efficiency

Although the Department of Energy under the Trump administration repeatedly drags its heels when it comes to setting common sense energy efficiency standards for appliances and lighting, states like Colorado are filling the gap. Colorado Governor Jared Polis last week signed a law setting water and energy efficiency standards for 16 products, including the types of common household light bulbs the Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed to exclude from the national standards taking effect January 1.

JamesDeMers - Pixabay

Colorado isn't alone. Other states are passing similar “backstops” as an insurance policy in case DOE goes forward with its proposal to roll back the lighting efficiency standard for certain household bulbs. Nevada just adopted it as state law; and Washington and Vermont also have set their own energy efficiency standards, which include lighting, to lower residents' energy bills and avoid wasteful greenhouse gas emissions. Others have similar measures under consideration in light of the Trump administration's lack of progress on efficiency standards.

Why Standards Are Important

The federal appliance standards program sets the minimum energy consumption levels for most of the appliances, equipment, and electronics we use every day. Standards on the books are already saving consumers more than $2 trillion on their energy bills. Efficiency standards are incredibly important for every consumer in the country because they ensure that any product you choose won't waste energy. This is of particular concern for renters, who tend to pay their own energy bills yet have very little say over the appliances in their homes or apartments, and consumers on fixed incomes who spend a disproportionately high percentage of their income on energy costs. 

By removing the most energy-wasting products, standards also avoid the need to generate extra electricity to operate them—and the associated power plant pollution that harms our health and the environment. Given the worsening climate crisis, we need efficiency standards more than ever.

Fortunately, the federal government isn’t the only player in this space—a few states have been setting their own standards since the 1970s for products sold in their states that aren’t covered by national standards. States continue to step in today, where national standards do not exist—especially with the Trump administration’s foot-dragging.  

State Efforts

Colorado’s newest state law also covers portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, and air compressors—products left in limbo by illegal DOE inaction on federal standards that have been completed from a technical perspective but not officially finalized. In addition, other products like computers and monitors, faucets, showerheads, and portable electric spas will have to meet state standards for energy and water consumption. The state policy, which is being phased in during the next three years, will save Colorado households and businesses around $1 billion on their utility bills over the next 15 years, including 85 billion gallons of water, and they will avoid 3 million metric tons of carbon pollution.

Similar state standards are under discussion in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., due in large part to the leadership of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), which developed the concept of a model state bill. The momentum is heartening and could be a powerful way to create what amounts to de facto national standards if enough states get on board. After all, manufacturers prefer to make and distribute a single product line for the whole nation rather than a separate set of products for certain states.

But such a piecemeal approach to energy efficiency is suboptimal in the long term, since there is already a well-established federal program in place.

Lighting Standard Definition

The products DOE aims to strike from the lighting standard definition, known as general service lamps, are designed to go into 2.7 billion sockets nationwide, roughly half of all household lighting sockets. They include round globe bulbs typically used in bathroom lighting fixtures, reflector bulbs used in recessed cans and floodlights, candle-shaped bulbs for chandeliers and sconces, and three-way light bulbs. LED bulbs easily meet the standard and use six times less energy than the inefficient incandescent versions they replace and last between 10 and 25 years.  Once the light bulb standards are fully in place, each U.S. household will save around $100 a year on their utility bill. Backstop standards put in place by Colorado and other states will ensure that consumers will still reap the majority of these savings. (Some of the bulb types are already preempted by the federal government, meaning states can’t set standards that would achieve the full savings of a federal standard).

More than 64,000 public comments have been formally filed in opposition to DOE’s proposed lighting rollback. Commenters included the bi-partisan U.S. Climate Alliance whose members include 24 governors from Republican and Democratic states representing 60 percent of the U.S. population.  

DOE needs to hear the message states are sending about lighting and other efficiency standards and fulfill its duty to encourage energy efficiency progress rather than standing in the way.

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