House Squanders Chance to Save Energy in Digital TV Transition

October 27, 2005

Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected an opportunity to cut consumers' energy costs as the nation transitions from analog to digital television broadcasting. With Congress considering legislation to set a final date for the transition, the committee rejected an energy efficiency standard for the digital TV adapters that many consumers will have to buy to continue using their broadcast TV sets after the 2008 transition date. Instead, the House committee passed a meaningless energy efficiency requirement for this equipment that would override stricter state standards.

Following the transition to digital broadcasting, millions of American households will be forced to install digital television adapters (DTAs) to continue watching broadcast programming on their analog TVs. Congress is considering a federal subsidy program to offset the cost of DTAs to tens of millions of affected households, many of which are low-income households that cannot afford to buy new digital-ready TVs or subscribe to cable or satellite TV services.

"The House amendment would increase consumer costs for the digital transition, while worsening our energy problems. Congress should help consumers afford this transition by establishing meaningful efficiency requirements for any DTAs eligible for the taxpayer-funded subsidy," said Jennifer Amann, an ACEEE Senior Associate.

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) had proposed an amendment to set efficiency requirements for subsidized boxes similar to minimum-efficiency standards set to take effect for all boxes sold in California as of January 2007. The Markey amendment would have limited DTAs to a maximum of 8 Watts of power draw when the television is on, and 2 Watts of power draw when the television is off. These requirements would have saved a typical household (with two TVs) about $20 annually and saved all consumers as much as $3.5 billion in electricity bills in the 5 years following the shift to digital broadcasting.

"It is astounding that the House Committee would reject an amendment to ensure the energy efficiency of a new product it is requiring and helping consumers to buy, particularly at a time when consumers and the country as a whole are bracing for record energy bills. By declining to put in place a meaningful efficiency standard, the Committee is placing an unnecessary financial burden on American consumers in terms of higher electric bills, and wasting energy needlessly. As this bill moves forward, Congress should make sure low-income and other consumers do not end up paying more in higher energy bills than they will get from the federal subsidy," said Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy.

Rejecting the Markey amendment, the House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted an amendment by Representative Mary Bono (R-CA) that would yield little or no energy savings and pre-empts California—and any other state—from adopting a better efficiency standard. The Bono provision would limit DTAs to a maximum of 9 Watts of power when the set is off and have no requirements for when the set is on.

Importantly, the Bono amendment would pre-empt California (and other states) from enforcing standards for DTAs. California adopted its standard just 12 months ago as part of the state's efforts to help keep electricity demand and supply in balance. New York also has passed legislation directing that energy use of these boxes be regulated. "The House action will save little or no electricity across the country, while costing California and New York consumers millions of dollars in higher electric bills. It is inappropriate for Congress to use this federal budget legislation to prevent states from setting their own energy policy, particularly when no federal standard is at issue," said Steven Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE.