Senate Clears Way For 20% Increase In National Standard

June 1, 2002
By a 52-47 vote, the U.S. Senate has cleared the way for the Department of Energy (DOE), under the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA),

By a 52-47 vote, the U.S. Senate has cleared the way for the Department of Energy (DOE), under the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA), to institute a national standard that mandates a 20% increase in the efficiency of residential central air conditioners and heat pumps manufactured in 2006. "This is a huge win for homeowners, small businesses and the environment," says William G. Sutton, president of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). "The standard is fair because it keeps the equipment affordable and reduces operating costs for consumers. It encourages homeowners to replace lower efficiency equipment sooner, reducing electricity use and power plant emissions which helps America meet energy efficiency goals." The vote came on an amendment to energy legislation offered by senators concerned about the higher costs imposed on consumers under a proposal to increase the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio from the current 10 SEER to 13 SEER, "[An increase to 13 SEER] would wreak havoc on the elderly, our low income and especially on the jobs of the people who work is this industry today," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). In rejecting the 13 SEER, the Senate directed DOE to report the new standard within 60 days of final passage of the energy bill, which now goes to a Senate-House conference committee that will attempt to iron out differences between the two bills. The House bill does not include a provision dealing with a minimum standard for air conditioners and heat pumps. However, under a longstanding rulemaking in which DOE has proposed a 12 SEER, a new standard could be published in the Federal Register at any time, and would not require congressional action. Some states (for example, California) have indicated a willingness to seek a waiver of the NAECA standard enactment, allowing them to seek a higher SEER rating, such as 13 SEER. However, the degree of proof that is required of the individual state for such an override is extremely burdensome. It’s doubtful any waivers will be granted. The NAECA 2006 rulemaking will be implemented in 2011. In other words, when the 2006 enactment of the 12.0 SEER law comes into play, NAECA will already be meeting to decide the next step. It’s very likely that 13 SEER will become the minimum in 2011. Senators noted during debate that under federal law, the standard is applicable in all 50 states and must be economically justified and technologically feasible. According to Sutton, "The Senate made the right choice by ordering a 20% increase in efficiency, because air conditioning must be affordable nationwide to serve as a life saver during killer heat waves. This standard helps working families, the elderly, and those on fixed incomes as it helps America meet its energy efficiency needs by eliminating construction of many power plants." Chief supporters of the 12 SEER standard, in addition to Harkin, included Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Blanche L. Lincoln (D-AR). During debate, Cochran cautioned that the cost of an air conditioner would jump at least $700 for a 13 SEER compared to $407 for 12 SEER. He warned, "We have a lot of people who do not make enough money to afford an air conditioner if it costs that much more than a current air conditioner.” Added Grassley: "Economically, a 13 SEER standard just doesn't make sense. For example, 75% of the consumers purchasing 13 SEER units will incur a net cost. At the end of the lifetime of the product, the savings in operating costs won't be sufficient to offset the additional upfront costs of that particular product."