California's Tough Electronics Energy Regulations Spreading to Other States


Photo via mwichary via Flickr CC

The saying is, "As California goes, so goes the nation." While that doesn't always ring true, it's proving accurate when it comes to toughening up energy efficiency requirements for electronics. Recently the state approved a new set of energy standards that will pull the most energy-sucking TVs from store shelves. It's been controversial among the electronics industry, which says consumers and manufacturers are doing improvements on their own and shouldn't have government stepping in. However, the regulations are a path toward more rapid energy efficiency advancements, and other states are now taking note. Four more states have proposed bills that will implement similar requirements for televisions and other electronics. But it doesn't come without complaint from the Consumer Electronics Association. Four More States Take On Energy Efficiency Requirements
The Consumer Electronics Association's SmartBrief informs us that thanks to the recent approval by the California Energy Commission (CEC) of regulations that will set energy-efficiency limits on California for televisions sold on store shelves, four other states have introduced legislation aiming for the same goals. They include Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin and Washington:

MA -- House Bill 3124 and Senate Bill 1524 concerning electronics
NY -- Assembly Bill 9387 concerning televisions
WA -- House Bill 2416 and Senate Bill 6489 concerning electronics
WI -- Senate Bill 450 and Assembly Bill 649 concerning electronics

Consumer Electronic Association Argues Against Regulations
We asked Doug Johnson, Senior Director, Technology Policy & International Affairs at CEA to comment on the issue, since CEA has serious concerns about these sorts of regulations. He states that it isn't just CEA, but also the California legislature that is unsure of the California Energy Commission's (CEC) regulations.

"As documents in the record for the CEC's proceeding show, the CEC's regulations are fundamentally flawed. The CEC bases its regulations on a stacked deck consisting of demonstrably false assumptions, admittedly stale and outmoded data, basic mathematical errors, and conceptual mistakes, that both exaggerate the "problem" to be solved and overestimate the potential energy savings of regulations for TVs. We believe the CEC's regulations violate California law. They will cost consumers far more than they may save and will interfere with consumer enjoyment of one of today's most dynamic and desired products."

Those are some fighting words. And it's hard to believe - without concrete examples - that this proposal would have "admittedly stale and outmoded data" or "basic mathematical errors." If a proposal has such blatant errors, it would not have been approved unanimously in a 5-0 vote. UPDATE: CEA provided us with this PDF highlighting their examples.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, "The new standards will make new TVs 30-50 percent more efficient and put almost a billion dollars a year back into the California economy in the form of lower electricity bills. The electricity saved will be equal to the amount used by all the homes in Oakland and Anaheim annually. The new standard will also eliminate the need for California to build a new, large-sized 500 MW power plant, reducing carbon emissions equal to removing 500,000 cars from the road."

Regulations Will Still Leave Most TVs On Store Shelves, But Boost Standards
The primary issue that seems to be ignored by CEA is that it's a very small percentage of televisions that will actually be pulled from shelves - most manufacturers (including those we asked specifically while attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year) say that the majority or all of their TV models will still be found on store shelves. All the California regulations do is tighten up the too-loose Energy Star standards.

Johnson disagrees, though, saying, "It's also plainly obvious that the CEC's regulations are completely unnecessary. The voluntary Energy Star program, which is supported by government, industry and a variety of other stakeholders, is working extremely well in transforming the market for TVs to higher and higher levels of energy efficiency -with no harmful impacts on consumers or innovation."

However, in a panel discussion just last month at CES, Martin LaMonica, senior writer at CNET, and David Katzmaier, CNET editor and expert on TV energy efficiency stated that roughly 80% of the televisions on the market are Energy Star certified - meaning that the standards are due for a tightening up so that only the most efficient televisions earn the certification. Without stronger requirements, that label is meaningless, and regulations from states start to make more sense.

More States Have Rejected Energy Efficiency Regulations
Johnson also states that while these four states are following California's lead, "states have overwhelmingly rejected energy regulations for consumer electronics promulgated by the California Energy Commission."


Image provided by CEA

There's without a doubt more to the story of these states rejecting the tighter regulations than, "We think they're dumb" or that they're so wildly problematic. There could be a wide range of reasons why these states rejected the proposed regulations, from not wanting to cover the expense of implementing the regulations to not having the same concerns about cutting energy consumption as California. We aren't sure.

"CEA is a strong supporter of energy efficiency, with recent and current initiatives focused on research and analysis, industry standards, public policy, and consumer education. With regard to the pending state bills that propose to copy the California Energy Commission's adopted (but not official) regulations for TVs, we do not believe it is wise to follow the flawed and problematic work of the CEC concerning TV energy use. In short, California's TV regulations are not justified, nor are they necessary."

It's About More Than Just The Marketplace
Of course a consumer electronics industry association is going to try and do all it can to leave the power in the hands of manufacturers who prefer not to have limits on what they can and can't sell in a particular state. However, when it comes to pushing hard for better innovation around efficiency in the market place and getting consumers more aware about the worst offenders in energy consumption, perhaps it is indeed up to the states to drive tighter standards by volunteer certifications like Energy Star and EPEAT through the implementation of their own regulations. If most everything is making the bar for energy efficiency with volunteer certifications, then the bar needs to be set higher. The California regulations will still leave most televisions on the shelves, but the standards will be even more stringent than Energy Star. It shows that it's time to pick up the pace, or move out of the way.

Government intervention in the consumer electronics industry is no doubt controversial - and a hearty debate is always welcome. However, we need to go with whatever puts the environment first, and wasteful consumption last.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
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CES 2010 - CEA Takes A Stab At California Television Efficiency Regulations
California Gives Thumbs Up to TV Efficiency Standards, and the Finger to the Consumer Electronics Industry

Tags: California | Electronics