EPA urges DOE to reconsider weakening air conditioner standard

By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, Nov. 5, 2001 – The US Environmental Protection Agency urged the Department of Energy to reconsider a proposal to weaken Clinton administration energy efficiency standards for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps.

EPA Deputy Administrator Linda J. Fisher in a letter last month said there is a “strong rationale” to support the original standard. Comment on DOE proposal’s ended Oct. 18 and a final rule, which could be tied up in court for years, is expected within the next few months.

DOE analysis underestimates the cost of electricity for residential consumers by an average 2-/kw-hr, EPA said. Adjusting DOE’s analysis to include more recent electricity prices “will definitely and drastically alter the results,” indicating the stronger standard is a better decision, EPA said.

DOE originally set a so-called Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, or SEER, of 13. But under the Bush administration the Energy Department proposed a roll back to 12 SEER. A 13 SEER standard represented a 30% increase in the minimum efficiency requirements for central air units and heat pumps, compared to a 20% increase under a 12 SEER standard.

DOE projected a 12 SEER standard could save about 3 quads of energy between 2006 and 2030, compared to 4.2 quads under a 13 SEER standard. The Energy Department cited the higher cost of a high efficiency 13 SEER unit and the possible income on low income Americans and cost to manufacturers as among the reasons to pull back. A number of states and consumer groups have sued to halt the proposed roll back.

Some groups praised EPA’s stance. “EPA deserves credit for examining the facts and doing what is right on air conditioner efficiency standards,” Alliance to Save Energy Pres. David M. Nemtzow said. He noted the Bush Administration chose “science over special interests” on arsenic levels in drinking water.

“The Energy Department should also ‘see the light’ and keep the 30% improvement in air conditioner standards,” Nemtzow said. If the administration can do it for drinking water, they can do it for energy efficiency – and give Americans lower energy bills, cleaner air, and a more reliable electricity system.”

SEER 13 air conditioners are not a “technological leap by any stretch,” said Bill Prindle, director, building and utility programs at the Alliance to Save Energy. He said no new technology is involved, all major manufacturers have sold SEER 13 equipment for years, and the added cost of about $100 on a typical $2,500 air conditioning job, is quickly paid back in energy savings.

Prindle said opposition to the higher standard has principally come from some manufacturers who have complained about the capital investment needed to manufacture the 13 SEER units. DOE estimated it could cost about $50 million/manufacturer.

But one consultant estimated DOE overstated the cost by as much $25 million. One large manufacturer also the transition could be made for about $25 million.

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