Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Furnace & Boiler Energy Standards Called "Extraordinarily Weak"

Nov 19: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it has increased the energy efficiency standards for residential furnaces and boilers, underscoring the Department’s commitment to meet its aggressive, five-year appliance standard rulemaking schedule, as established in its January 31, 2006, Report to Congress. The Department said it estimates that these amended standards, which become effective in 2015, will save the equivalent of the total amount of energy consumed by 2.5 million American households in one year, or approximately 0.25 quadrillion (10x15) British thermal units (Btus) of energy, over a period of 24 years [from 2015–2038].

DOE Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner said, “As a nation, we must find better and more ways to both conserve energy and use it more efficiently and productively. These amended standards will not only cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, but they also allow consumers to make smarter energy choices that will save energy and money. Improving appliance standards is a top priority of the Department of Energy, and in the coming years, we intend to maintain and, where possible, accelerate the extraordinary progress we have made over the last two years.”

DOE has determined that energy efficiency standards for residential non-weatherized and weatherized gas furnaces, mobile home gas furnaces, oil-fired furnaces, and gas- and oil-fired boilers are technologically feasible, economically justified, and will result in significant conservation of energy as a result of increased efficiency. The total energy savings are estimated to result in cumulative greenhouse gas emission reductions of approximately 7.8 million tons (Mt) of carbon dioxide -- an amount equal to the emissions produced by 2.6 percent of all light truck vehicles on U.S. roads in one year.

The Final Rule for residential furnaces and boilers was issued under a consent decree schedule entered in State of New York v. Bodman. DOE sought to modify the schedule in order to more fully review comments received on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Comments indicated the feasibility and desirability of addressing natural gas price impacts as a result of the standards at issue in this rulemaking. DOE wished to more fully consider such potential impacts, prior to finalizing this Rule, and preliminarily believed that, if confirmed, would have merited consideration in evaluating higher efficiency standards for the products covered by this rulemaking. DOE’s motion to modify the consent decree was denied and therefore, DOE issued the Final Rule on November 19, 2007, The amended standards were published in the Federal Register [72 FR 65135-65170].

A coalition of consumer, energy, and environmental organizations sharply criticized the new standards calling them "extraordinarily weak" [
See WIMS 10/6/06]. They said not only are the standards little changed from the original levels set by Congress twenty years ago, but also 99% of natural gas furnaces currently sold already meet the new minimum efficiency level. Andrew deLaski, Executive Director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP) said, "DOE has delivered a 'turkey' of an efficiency rule. This Thanksgiving, that's bitter news for Americans who care about global warming, high energy prices, and our dependence on overseas energy."

The groups said the standard just increases the minimum gas furnace efficiency level to 80% from the current level of 78%. The rule also modestly increases the standards for oil furnaces and oil and gas boilers, which, on a national basis, are far less common than gas furnaces. David B. Goldstein, Energy Program Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said, "This standard is grossly inadequate -- a 90% natural gas furnace efficiency standard would provide more than seventeen times the carbon savings. Today's decision makes it all too clear that the Energy Department attaches zero value to cutting global warming emissions." Goldstein noted that recently both the head of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, James Connaughton, and Secretary of State Rice have highlighted appliance standards as one of best ways to cut global warming emissions.

The groups also point out that four states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maryland); frustrated with the pace and direction of the Federal standards, have already set their own furnace and boiler standards. Other states such as New Hampshire and New Jersey are considering following suit. Susan Coakley, Executive Director of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) said, "In the Northeast, consumer energy bills and global warming rank as top concerns and efficiency ranks as the top solution. We urge northeast states to move forward immediately to implement their legislation to establish higher, more cost-effective state standards. Such state leadership is crucial to protect consumers and reduce carbon emissions in light of this federal failure to lead." The final rule provides guidance to states for how they can seek a waiver from Federal preemption, which is necessary for them to enforce their own standards. However, such an approach likely will lead to a patchwork of standards among the various states. Other major groups objecting to the standards include the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Access a release from DOE (
click here). Access the final rules (click here). Access DOE's residential furnaces and boilers website for additional information (click here). Access a lengthy release from ACEEE (click here). [*Energy]