The Benefits of Reinstating the Clinton Air Conditioner Standard

Kit Kennedy, 212-727-4463 or 347-563-2864 (cell)



On January 13, a federal appeals court reinstated the Clinton administration central air conditioner and heat pump standard, ruling that the Bush administration had violated the law when it rolled it back. This standard, completed in January 2001 at the end of a seven-year public process, will improve the energy efficiency of new central air conditioners and heat pumps by 30 percent. Now, with the court's decision, all new equipment sold in the United States must comply with the new standard by January 2006.

After coming into office, the Bush administration first delayed the standard, and then weakened it in May 2002. Because the rollback would have increased national energy consumption, raised summertime utility bills for millions of Americans, and increased power plant pollution, NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), 10 state attorney generals, led by Eliot Spitzer of New York, and consumer groups sued the Bush administration over the rollback.


The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Electricity Consumption

Air conditioner efficiency is rated by what is called a seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER. The Clinton administration boosted the standard from the current level of SEER 10, established by Congress in 1987, to SEER 13, a 30 percent improvement. The Bush Department of Energy weakened the standard to SEER 12. This rollback would have sacrificed about one-third of the savings from the Clinton SEER 13 standard.

In 2020, annual consumption of electricity would have been 12.6 billion kilowatt-hours higher under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the total annual power used by about 1.2 million households). In 2030, annual consumption of electricity would have been 17.5 billion kilowatt-hours higher, equivalent to the total annual power used by about 1.7 million households.


The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Peak Electricity Demand

In 2020, peak electricity demand would have been 14,500 megawatts higher under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the output of about 48 average-sized (300 megawatt) power plants. In 2030, peak demand would have been 20,000 megawatts higher, equivalent to the output of about 67 average-sized (300 MW) power plants.

Under the Bush rollback, from 2006 -- the year the standard should go into effect -- through 2030, U.S. households would have used an additional 252 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to the amount of power used by about 25 million households in one year.


The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Consumer Costs

In 2020, consumers would have paid another $1 billion to run air conditioners under the Bush rollback. In 2030, consumers would have paid another $1.4 billion to run air conditioners.

From 2006 through 2030, U.S. consumers would have paid $21 billion more to run air conditioners under the rollback.

The consumer energy bill savings from the SEER 13 standard outweigh the estimated higher purchase price of new central air conditioners. The Department of Energy Department (under both Clinton and Bush) estimates the net savings of a 13 SEER standard to be between $1 billion and $5 billion. In addition, DOE's estimate of the effect of the new standard on the price of new air conditioners and heat pumps is probably too high. If DOE overestimated the price increase, the net savings will be even greater.


The Bush Rollback Would Have Increased Air Pollution

In 2020, power plant carbon emissions would have been 2.5 million metric tons higher under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the annual output of about 1.7 million cars. In 2030, carbon emission would have been 3.5 million metric tons higher, equivalent to the output of about 2.3 million cars).

From 2006 through 2030, the power plants would have emitted another 51 million metric tons of carbon under the Bush rollback, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions from 34 million cars. Moreover, the rollback would have increased nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and soot pollution from power plants at precisely those times that most areas have their worst air pollution problems -- on hot summer days.

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