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Is the ENERGY STAR Program Abandoning Average Consumers?

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 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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