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Publication date: Nov. 22, 2006


As homeowners grow increasingly concerned with energy bills, the US Dept. of Energy has finally agreed to move ahead with setting new energy-efficiency standards for 22 residential and commercial appliances over the next five years. These include heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters, industrial boilers and motors, dishwashers, clothes dryers, certain kinds of lighting, and more.

This agreement settles a lawsuit brought against DOE by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), consumer groups, and 15 states.

Over the last decade or more, DOE's rulemaking process on appliance efficiency has lagged considerably. Federal laws enacted from 1975 on cover roughly two dozen major types of commercial and residential equipment. Under these laws, DOE must set new standards at the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective level possible. The agency cannot weaken already established standards.

In January 2006, DOE published a 5-year plan to catch up on its backlog, including appliance efficiency rulemakings required by the 2005 energy bill.

  • DOE press: Craig Stevens, 202-586-4940.
In January, DOE also reported its catch-up plan to Congress. Section 141 of that report requires both an initial report and semi-annual implementation reports. Here's the first (August 2006) semi-annual implementation report.

DOE estimates that these standards could save enough energy to meet the annual energy needs of 12 million US households, while cutting utilities' annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 103 million metric tons a year.

Don't expect to see these savings anytime soon, however. On Nov. 14, 2006, the Washington Post reported: "It will take years for such savings to be realized. The Energy Department must first decide how high to raise the bar for energy efficiency, and then it will take years for such appliances to replace existing ones."

So what are these new standards likely to be? Some details can be found in these DOE datasheets, and in these rulemaking spreadsheets (unzip utility needed to view).

POSSIBLE ANGLES: In the long term, watch for major housing development projects in your region especially large apartment, townhome, low-income, or retirement communities. Developers of these projects tend to buy appliances in bulk. Ask how the new appliance standards might effect their purchasing decisions and the economics of those projects.

Also, check whether your state has its own appliance standards. How do these compare to federal standards, and how has your state been doing on updating those standards?

The appliance standards for EPA's Energy Star labeling program go far beyond current federal requirements. In the short-term and long-term, appliance buyers might do better to purchase Energy Star products.

OTHER SOURCES:RELATED: On Oct. 6, 2006, DOE published a proposed rule for residential furnace and boiler efficiency. See Tipsheet, Oct. 26, 2006.

Last revised January 22, 2013

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