"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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How California Helps Drive Adoption of Overdue Federal Appliance Standards

By Jonathan Marshall

Chalk one up for the California Energy Commission: It was part of a multi-state coalition that reached a little-noticed settlement last month with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to update overdue federal energy efficiency standards on several commercial products. The new standards, now scheduled to take effect early next year, will save businesses and consumers across the country an estimated $3.8 billion a year by 2035 on their energy bills.

Bridges Restaurant in Danville, which last year replaced its ice maker with this energy-efficient one, is one of many restaurants and food service providers that have benefited from PG&E’s Food Service Technology Center. (Photo by David Kligman.)

The coalition nailed DOE for failing to enact new standards on commercial coolers and freezers, metal halide lamps, and electric motors as required under the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act, originally passed in 1975. The new standards should eventually reduce carbon pollution by more than 26 million metric tons each year, equal to the output of six coal-burning power plants, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Just three weeks after the settlement, DOE announced proposed rules for commercial refrigeration equipment and walk-in coolers and freezers, which together could cut energy bills by $28 billion over 30 years. PG&E, which has long supported restaurant energy efficiency through its sponsorship of the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, offers commercial rebates ranging from $50 to $600 for purchases of refrigerators and freezers that meet Energy Star 2.0 standards.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

Last month, DOE also issued its proposed new standards for metal halide lamp fixtures, which house the bright white lights often seen in sports stadiums, warehouses and big box stores, parking garages, and roads. The standards will upgrade the efficiency of magnetic and electronic ballasts used to drive the lamps, potentially saving businesses and towns about $3 billion by 2030. Here again, PG&E offers commercial customers attractive rebates to upgrade or replace less efficient metal halide fixtures, as part of the utility’s award-winning energy efficiency program.

As ACEEE explains, federal standards were held up by the White House Office of Management and Budget until the recent settlement with DOE. “With President Obama’s renewed commitment to tackling climate change, we are optimistic that the days when a White House office holds up efficiency standards—and the large savings they could deliver—are coming to an end,” writes ACEEE’s technical advocacy coordinator, Joanna Mauer.

Consumers may well end up saving even more than projected. As NEXT100 reported last month, studies consistently show that federal appliance standards end up costing less than DOE initially estimated—a tribute to manufacturer innovation and competition, which quickly result in lower prices for products that meet the new requirements.

Back in California, meanwhile, the energy commission continues to drive new state standards development in the area of computers and other consumer electronics, lighting, water appliances, clothes dryers, residential pool pumps, and more.

Said Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller: “In fact, appliance and equipment efficiency standards are among the most effective tools we can use to conserve energy, improve air quality and the reliability of our electricity grid, and lower utility bills. California standards alone have saved ratepayers more than $74 billion in electricity costs and $64 billion in natural gas costs since 1975.”

Email Jonathan Marshall at jonathan.marshall@pge.com.