- The U.S. Department of Energy announced changes to the process for updating federal energy efficiency standards for 60 different categories of appliances that significantly raise the bar for the amount of energy efficiency improvements a standard must achieve before the agency will even consider implementing it.
- In a Jan. 15 statement, the Trump administration said the change "will allow DOE to focus on standards projected to provide by far the largest return on investment for the American people," but energy efficiency advocacy groups said the agency's move will endanger future administrations' abilities to update appliance standards that are saving the U.S. economy up to $2 trillion from lower spending on utility bills.
- The DOE's process rule change, announced just a day after President Trump gave a high-profile campaign speech ridiculing efficiency standards, is the latest in a number of steps DOE has taken to revise existing efficiency mandates or block new ones, such as a recent decision to allow the continued sale of incandescent lightbulbs that would have been phased out of the market by previous federal standards.
Under federal law, DOE can only put forth appliance standards that will lead to a "significant conservation of energy."
Exactly what constitutes significance has been up to the agency's discretion, but the newly-announced process rule change establishes that to be "significant" a new standard must save 0.3 quadrillion BTUs ("quads") of energy consumed by appliances on site over 30 years. The U.S. economy as a whole uses 100 quads each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which opposes the DOE's change.
Over the last three decades, 60% of DOE appliance standards met that 0.3 quad threshold, and the 40% that fell under the threshold "accounted for just 4% of total energy savings," according to the agency's statement.
But that 4% represents $80 billion in savings, coming out of $2 trillion in total savings from lower energy costs, Appliance Standards Awareness Project Executive Director Andrew deLaski told Utility Dive. That dollar amount is based on the DOE's own numbers. The agency's Appliance and Equipment Standards Program has led to "cumulative utility bill savings to consumers" of "more than $1 trillion by 2020 and more than $2 trillion by 2030," according to a DOE factsheet.
"It's a very quiet policy delivering real savings," deLaski said of the program, which affects 60 product categories, including household appliances like dishwashers and microwaves, but also industrial appliances like air compressors and some industrial motors.
Even those standards that meet the new significance threshold could now be blocked due to other elements of the process rule change, according to deLaski and groups like the NRDC and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
For example, under federal law the DOE must review its Appliance and Equipment Standards Program every six years and ensure that it is requiring "the maximum improvement in energy efficiency for products covered by the program that is ‘technically feasible and economically justified,'" according to the agency. To determine technical feasibility, appliances must be tested under certain procedures.
The process rule change requires that the agency adopt test procedures based on "private-sector consensus," which the DOE argues "will allow manufacturers to test their products at lower cost than when DOE creates a separate testing metric," but deLaski warns could lead to a biased process.
"They will rely on private processes for test procedures, which don't have the same transparency as public processes," he said.
The NRDC expressed a similar argument, saying in a statement that the change "will basically allow manufacturers to design the test procedures used to determine if their products meet standards."
The "DOE just made it far more difficult — and in some cases, impossible — to establish future safeguards against energy-wasting appliances, electronics, and equipment," NRDC Climate and Clean Energy Program Senior Energy Policy Advocate Lauren Urbanek said in the statement.
During a Jan. 14 speech in Milwaukee, President Trump claimed that federal efficiency standards have weakened modern appliances.
"Anybody have a new dishwasher? I'm sorry for that," he said, adding that his administration will make dishes "beautiful."
But none of the existing appliance standards actually degrades appliance performance because federal law prohibits the DOE from requiring energy savings at the expense of performance, according to deLaski.
"There is a growing body of research that appliances work better than they used to… and they are cheaper in real dollars, despite them getting more energy efficient," he said.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a trade group, did not respond to a request for comment.