Coalition Praises DOE for First Step Toward Setting New Energy-Saving Appliance Standards But Proposed Schedule Ignores 2 Key Products Must Be Made Binding

February 1, 2006

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of energy efficiency advocates praised the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today for issuing a proposed schedule for completing new energy efficiency standards for appliances but called on the department to include home refrigerators and furnace fans in its schedule (two products among those with the biggest potential energy savings), to expedite nearly complete standards, and to be bound by the final schedule—by court order if necessary.

"We are pleased that DOE has made a strong commitment to new energy-saving appliance standards," said Steven Nadel, Executive Director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). "The proposed schedule is a good start, but leaves out two of the products which offer the biggest potential energy savings: home refrigerators and furnace fans."

Appliance and equipment efficiency standards are among the nation's most effective policies for saving energy. According to ACEEE, existing standards, including new standards enacted by Congress last summer as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, will save nearly 400 billion kilowatt-hours per year by 2020, an amount equal to about 11 percent of current U.S. consumption. At current electricity and natural gas prices, these savings in 2020 will be worth about $34 billion. Updating all of the standards now pending at DOE could save another 180 billion kilowatt-hours per year by 2030, or about 5 percent of current electricity use, worth about $15 billion per year at current prices.

According to the coalition, the schedule released today should be improved in three crucial areas:

1. Address home refrigerators and furnace fans, two products among those with the largest potential energy savings.

In November 2005, ACEEE and other coalition members asked DOE to propose a schedule for issuing all overdue standards by the end of 2010 and recommended that the standards which would save the most energy, including residential refrigerators and residential furnace fans, be issued first. The schedule proposed today completes the standards it addresses by mid-2011. However, leaving out refrigerators and furnace fans seriously diminishes the energy savings since these two products account for about one-fourth of the overall potential energy savings from new standards.

"By failing to say when they will deal with the new standards for home refrigerators and furnace fans, DOE has left a gaping hole in its schedule," said Nadel.

The schedule also fails to address commercial boilers, certain commercial water heaters, and some types of small motors. It is unclear whether some types of commercial lighting will be addressed.

2. DOE schedule must be made binding.

In recent years, although DOE has established schedules for its top priority rulemakings, it has repeatedly missed the self-imposed deadlines.

"DOE's failure to live up to previous schedules has eroded confidence in its ability to meet deadlines," said Andrew deLaski, Executive Director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. "The best way to make a DOE schedule binding is to have a court enforce it."

Such a court order could materialize. Last fall, 15 states, led by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and several public interest groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and National Consumer Law Center brought suit over the missed deadlines, seeking a court-imposed and monitored schedule. That litigation is still pending. In addition, Congress, in the 2005 energy law, required that DOE provide a plan for getting current on all required standards and provide semi-annual reports to Congress on its progress toward meeting the deadlines. DOE provided its first report to Congress today. Furthermore, Congress' Government Accountability Office is currently investigating the causes for the rulemaking delays.

3. DOE should expedite two standards which are far-advanced in the rulemaking process.

DOE has been working on thermal efficiency standards for home furnaces and boilers and electric distribution transformers since 2001 and issued Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemakings in summer 2004. By Congressional deadline, these standards were due in 1994 and 1996, respectively. Each year of delay locks in enormous long-term energy waste since products sold and installed can last two-to-three decades. According to the schedule issued today, these standards would be completed in fall 2007. By expediting these standards now, the Department could issue final standards by the end of 2006.