DOE Enacts Expensive Commercial Air Conditioner Standards

Published January 8, 2016

As part of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from energy use in its battle against global warming, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced new energy efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners and furnaces in mid-December. 

The Energy Department says the new rules will “save more energy than any other standard issued by the department to date.” 

Over the course of the next 30 years, the administration say the new standards will result in businesses saving $167 billion on utility bills and prevent the emission 885 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, and when combined with 40 previous energy efficiency regulations on consumer and commercial products the DOE has passed under Obama’s presidency it will reduce emissions by 2 billion metric tons through 2030. 

The new standards take effect in 2018, requiring manufacturers build air conditioners and furnaces 13 percent more energy efficient than at present, with the standards requiring another 15 percent in effciency improvements by 2023.

Industry Collaborates on Rules

The DOE said it developed the rules in collaboration with air conditioning industry organizations and manufacturers.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, just back from the UN global climate change summit in Paris, said the rule will help the U.S. meet commitments under a new international climate agreement. 

“Just days after the Paris agreement to cut global emissions and create a new era of affordable energy, today’s announcement marks the largest energy-saving standard in history and demonstrates that America is leading the effort to reduce energy costs and cut carbon emissions,” Moniz said upon announcing the new standards. 

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute said it was “still reviewing the final rule” on Thursday, but was optimistic about the deal.

“This is an agreement that will ultimately save the nation considerable energy and we are proud of the role our member companies played in its development,” Francis Dietz, the group’s vice president of public affairs, was quoted in The Hill as saying. “It is a good example in a sometimes cynical city that when disparate parties come together in good faith, good things can happen.” 

Consumer Response Questionable

While manufacturers may be optimistic about the new rules and pleased to have had input into their final form, Sofie E. Miller, senior policy analyst with the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center says factory owners and businesses may not be as thrilled, noting the DOE failed to follow its usual regulatory steps in finalizing the rules.

“The DOE is issuing this huge regulation as a direct final rule, meaning it’s final before the public has had a chance to weigh in,” said Miller. “That is a huge divergence from our typical regulatory process, which has always been premised on the idea of public participation in rulemaking.”

According to the DOE’s analysis, the rule will increase product prices by between $1,540 and $4,525 per unit, a roughly 15% price increase. While the agency expects these expects the increased initial costs will be more than made up for by energy savings over the life of the products resulting in businesses receiving $65 billion in net benefits over the life of the program, Miller said, “the DOE’s reasoning assumes that consumers receive a benefit when their choices are limited to high-efficiency products only, rather than a cost. 

“If purchasers value the products they’re buying now at current prices, it will be a cost to them when these products are unavailable to them in the future,” Miller said.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.