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Consumer Technology Energy Star Consumers1

Published on August 8th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor

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Is the ENERGY STAR Program Abandoning Average Consumers?

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August 8th, 2013 by
 
Editor’s Note: This article was sponsored by Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency. As always, we wouldn’t publish this article if we didn’t think it fit our focus, values, and mission. The issue below is a very interesting one that we haven’t yet written about. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this and hear if you agree with the argument presented by the Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency or have another perspective on ENERGY STAR’s proposed changes.

The EPA is pushing forward a proposal that would take ENERGY STAR windows and skylights out of reach for many average consumers, despite growing concern among tens of thousands of American citizens and leading ENERGY STAR partners.

Every few years, energy efficiency standards increase for ENERGY STAR–rated products. Historically, the process is a collaboration between the federal government and manufacturers. But this time has been different. Version 6.0 requirements for residential windows, doors, and skylights, released recently, marks a sharp departure from the past practice of balancing consumer accessibility against the need to raise efficiency standards over time. EPA staff has stated they are attempting an unprecedented 30% decrease in market share for ENERGY STAR–rated windows after the proposed Version 6.0 specification takes effect.

Recent survey data from EPA found that 87% of Americans recognize the ENERGY STAR brand and 73% of those who bought ENERGY STAR–rated products intentionally chose them because they believe in the label’s promise of energy savings and lower utility bills. A bipartisan group of members of Congress sent a letter to the President to express concern that this taxpayer-funded program is abandoning that promise to consumers by changing its mission now.

The Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency has been educating consumers and launched a Change.org petition in April to give consumers a voice in this debate. The petition has gathered more than 20,000 signatures after raising concerns the program was intentionally taking ENERGY STAR products out of reach for average consumers.

“Obviously we are disappointed that EPA hasn’t responded to our concerns, but consumers need a voice in this debate and we plan to keep fighting,” said Coalition Executive Director Sherry Delaney. “This move isn’t just anti-consumer, it’s anti-environment since average consumers will lose the clear guidance upon which they’ve grown to rely for making energy efficient improvements to their homes.  If the EPA can make these kinds of anti-consumer changes for windows and skylights, who knows which products will be next. We’re asking Americans to contact EPA to save the ENERGY STAR program for average consumers.”

It isn’t just consumers who have raised concerns, industry leaders have voiced concerns as well.  “Our members have been long-time ENERGY STAR partners and we cannot recall a time when the program set market share as a target,” said Michael O’Brien, CEO of the Window & Door Manufacturers Association. “Average consumers rely on the ENERGY STAR label to identify products that will save them enough on utility bills in a reasonable period to offset the cost of making a more energy efficient choice. We don’t understand why the program would take that away from such a large number of consumers.”

Leading retailers have raised similar concerns: “Consumers expect the ENERGY STAR brand to deliver on affordability and efficiency, with any additional costs recouped in a relatively short payback period. That promise inherent in ENERGY STAR has become a hallmark of the program and an important consideration when selecting products,” said Michael Chenard, Director of Corporate Sustainability for Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

The proposed Version 6.0 criteria would change required energy performance ratings for windows and skylights in large parts of the country, making triple-paned products or the use of expensive technologies the most viable ways for manufacturers to qualify for the ENERGY STAR label. Most ENERGY STAR windows sold now are more affordable energy efficient double-paned products. Many of these still would be widely available to consumers but no longer ENERGY STAR qualified, forcing shoppers to decipher U-factors, solar heat gain coefficients and other such data on their own to decide which windows are a good value. The proposed new rules would effectively strip average consumers of the “easy choice” ENERGY STAR has always promised, according to the Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency.

The public comment period for consumers to weigh-in on saving the ENERGY STAR program for average consumers closes August 21, 2013

Image Credit: Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency

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  • pocketstring

    I would like to know more about who the Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency represents. When your about us page has nothing more specific than “a group of citizens, manufacturers, and retailers who want to preserve and protect ENERGY STAR” I start to smell an industry lobby group. Jack here may not be a lobbyist, but my guess is he’s on the payroll. There’s nothing wrong with lobbying or paid advocacy, but it should be out in the open.

  • Robert Howd

    The Energy Star label has always been intended to provide a consumer guide to the most energy-efficient products, not average products. Market share above 50% is one of EPA’s basic criteria for revising upward the Energy Star performance standards. When market share rises far above that, it’s time for a large change in the standard, as for windows, and recently for refrigerators. It appears that the “Coalition for home energy efficiency” is a group started and funded by window manufacturers, who are afraid that the change in Energy Star criteria will hurt their sales.

    It doesn’t appear correct to say that the amount of change in market share projected by this change is unprecedented. The Version 5.0 changes in refrigerator standards were also projected to drop the market share of Energy Star products by about 30%, according to the NRDC comments at http://www.energystar.gov/products/specs/sites/products/files/NRDC%20Comments.pdf.

    Is publishing comments by a manufacturer’s lobbying group that attack efficiency standards really consistent with the mission of this website?

    • Jack

      Robert: Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), a leader on energy efficiency issues, led a bipartisan group in Congress to raise these concerns regarding cost-effectiveness of the proposed ENERGY STAR standard: http://coalitionforenergyefficiency.org/docs/20130416-congressional-letter.pdf

      Historically, the ENERGY STAR program has been focused on balancing energy efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and product performance. Market share, while an important consideration, can be driven by many factors (such as recessions, when many average income Americans can’t afford to make home improvements.)

      The Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency enjoys the support of tens of thousands of Americans, retailers, and manufacturers. Our purpose isn’t to “attack efficiency standards,” but to keep a successful program working as originally designed for our environment and for American consumers.

  • Jack

    The ENERGY STAR program is one of our nation’s most successful federal government programs; it is completely voluntary and has saved Americans $230 billion on utility bills and prevented over 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon from entering our atmosphere during its 21-year lifespan. It’s done this by helping average consumers choose energy efficient products by showing that the difference in initial cost will be paid back in a reasonable time with energy savings.

    The ENERGY STAR program could identify only the very most energy efficient (read: expensive) products, but then only the ultra-rich would be able to afford them. A central principle of the program — and a reason for its success — is affordability.

    Middle-income households use 1/3 of all residential energy each year. With an estimated 1 billion single-paned windows still in use in American homes, the potential gain of upgrading to energy-efficient windows is huge. Replacing those windows with existing ENERGY STAR windows would save 1.12 quadrillion BTUs per year – an average of 20 million BTUs per house.

    Saving the ENERGY STAR program is consistent with President Obama’s initiative to #ActonClimate and provide a #ABetterBargain for the middle class.

    • JamesWimberley

      Jack the presumed lobbyist writes: “only the ultra-rich would be able to afford them”. This is false, in any normal understanding of “ultra-rich”, say the top 0.1% of incomes, even a generous top 1%. Triple glazing is routine in Sweden, with an average income lower than the USA’s.

      • Jack

        James: I’m not a lobbyist, but I do value – and advocate for – government programs that are proven to help the environment and consumers. My point re: the “ultra-rich” is that, from a theoretical standpoint, someone could make a product that is 100% energy efficient. But very few people could afford to buy it. The ENERGY STAR program was designed to steer consumers toward energy efficient products that help the environment AND which allow them to recoup the additional investment through lower utility bills in a reasonable “payback period.” That balance has been central to the program’s success over the last two decades. The new proposed standard would push the payback period for ENERGY STAR rated windows in the Northern Zone (which is almost half the country) to beyond the average time an American stays in their home. If the ENERGY STAR program abandons average consumers, it doesn’t just hurt the consumers, it hurts the environment.

  • JamesWimberley

    On the other side, dumbing down the label to match current mainstream products makes it harder for consumers to identify those at the cutting edge.

    European energy labelling uses a scale from A++ to D. They had to add A+ and A++ as the average rose over time. It would be sensible for the US to go over to a scale. However, this should start with A as the minimum,leaving an open-ended escalation, at any rate until you each Z.

    • Matt

      I do think we need more that a yes/no. Maybe 3-5 grades. Think 3 level for a minute (L, M, H). Then the question is do you base it on a set goal to get to M and H, which raises over time; kind of like Corp MPG standards. Or is it set based on the what was available last year. H is top 1/3, M middle, L bottom. Goals means it only goes up when if the gov picks. Last year base, means it goes up or down based on what manufacturer decide to make. Or you can end up with blended. But the scale should not be fixed for all time. Since what is poor, good, better, best changes over time. Like MPG, it should get better as time goes by.

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