California Poised to Regulate Home TVs

Published March 1, 2009

That 52-inch flat-screen television on the family room wall may have a terrific picture, but there’s a big drawback, according to some activist groups: It’s an energy hog. And California bureaucrats are taking aim.

Golden State regulators are getting ready to curb the growing power requirements of TV sets by drafting the nation’s first rules requiring retailers to sell only the most energy-efficient models starting in 2011.

The consumer electronics industry opposes the regulations, expected to pass in mid-2009, and claims the law could remove some TVs from store shelves and boost sticker prices.

Creating a ‘Gray Market’

The California Energy Commission is looking for ways to relieve the strain on the power grid. Officials say the standards, once fully in place, would reduce the state’s annual energy needs by an amount equivalent to the power consumed by 86,400 homes.

Some manufacturers could struggle to meet the new standards, particularly those making plasma TVs, which consume more energy than other flat-screen televisions of the same size. The regulations could create a “gray market,” sending consumers intent on buying power-hungry models to and other Internet retailers headquartered outside the state.

“This proposal would take a lot of televisions off the market,” said Doug Johnson, senior director of technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association. “You can imagine the impact that would have on local economies.”

Better Energy-Saving Methods

The proposal duplicates efforts that are already more successful, Johnson added. “There are better ways to save energy already out there, namely the Energy Star program. This regulation is on one hand harmful and on the other hand completely unnecessary.”

The proposal, if approved, would eliminate 25 percent of the television market in California, according to Johnson.

“If you take away just 10 percent of [television sales], annual state sales and income tax losses would be $44.2 million, [and] you would lose 5,300 jobs across the state of California,” Johnson added. “This is harmful, particularly in the current economy.”

Energy Star Preferred

The Energy Star label is given to the most efficient 25 percent of a particular product. As competing products become more energy-efficient in an attempt to gain the designation, the standards for the product category increase, Johnson said.

On televisions alone, the Energy Star program has saved 14.7 billion kilowatt hours, Johnson added.

“The [California] proposal would have a significant negative impact on our members,” said Darren Reaman, director of public policy for the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, whose members install home theaters and related systems. “It could limit the type of products our members could install and implement in the home. The television is an important piece of the product mix for our members.

“Our members are already promoting energy efficiency in the home through video calibration, lighting control, automated window shade treatments, and other products that our members provide,” Reaman added. “We think the California Energy Commission can find other ways to meet its goals without restricting the sales of high-performance televisions.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.