Victory for Now in New Mexico Efficiency Ruling

A federal district court in New Mexico has granted a preliminary injunction to stop the city of Albuquerque from enforcing new ordinances that would significantly increase the cost of heating and cooling equipment for consumers seeking to upgrade to more efficient systems.

The ordinances were vigorously opposed by AHRI, HARDI, and other HVAC industry groups.

“Those of us who know the marketplace — the equipment manufacturers, dealers and installers – have discovered that when minimum standards are raised beyond the point at which they are economically justifiable, it results in more repairs and fewer replacements of older, less efficient equipment, therefore saving no energy,” says AHRI President Stephen Yurek. “We could achieve greater energy savings faster, especially in these tough economic times, if we provide incentives for homeowners to upgrade to equipment that meets the federal minimum efficiency standards and take measures to ensure that this equipment is properly installed and maintained.”

The ordinance, which was to become effective for new construction this month and for replacement equipment next July, would mandate a 90 percent minimum AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) for residential furnaces and a 14 minimum SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps.

Albuquerque’s proposed minimums exceed federal standards, which require furnaces to achieve at least 78 percent AFUE and central air conditioners to achieve at least 13 SEER. The federal minimum standard for central air conditioners was raised from 10 SEER to 13 SEER and became effective in 2006; the federal furnace standard was raised in 2007 to 80% AFUE, and will become effective in 2015. Heating and cooling equipment that far exceeds federal minimums is available for consumers and building owners to purchase.

The federal government sets minimum efficiency standards for heating and cooling equipment based on an assessment of what is economically justifiable for most U.S. homes. In its 24-page opinion, the court stated that while the city’s goals were laudable, its Energy Efficiency Code and High Performance Building Ordinance “infringes on an area preempted by federal law.”

The date for the final hearing on the matter will be determined at a court conference in early November. AHRI and other industry associations will continue to educate the city regarding the impacts of the law, as well as alternative opportunities to reduce energy use, such as improving installer training and increasing the number of properly installed systems.

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