A three-year legal wrangle over residential central air conditioner efficiency standards was resolved in April when the air conditioning industry and the Department of Energy decided not to pursue further legal action on this issue. As a result, the original Department of Energy Rule, set at SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) 13 in January 2001, will go into effect in January 2006.
The current standard has been SEER 10 since 1993. The new standard will create enormous benefits: it will reduce the peak demand for electric power by 41,500 Megawatts by 2020 (equivalent to 138 typical new power plants of 300 MW each) and save consumers approximately $5 billion over the 2006-2030 period. It will also save 7.2 million metric tons of carbon in 2020, which is equivalent to taking more than 3 million vehicles off the road.
ACEEE was centrally involved in the rulemaking process that led to the 2001 SEER 13 standard, providing extensive analysis over several years. The Bush administration withdrew the 2001 rule, and issued a SEER 12 standard in 2002. This triggered a lawsuit by several states, plus environmental and consumer groups. The Second Circuit Court ruled for the plaintiffs in January 2004. DOE decided in April not to appeal this ruling, after the air conditioning industry decided not to pursue an earlier suit it had filed at the time of the 2001 original rule.
Resolution of this issue opens the way for DOE to accelerate work on other standards, including residential heating equipment, commercial cooling equipment, and transformers. It also allows the air conditioning industry, ACEEE, and other stakeholders to focus on discussions aimed at consensus agreements on other air conditioning and refrigeration products. The net result should produce further energy savings, emission reductions, and economic benefits for consumers and businesses.