JUICE: CA’s Stellar Energy

18 Apr 2017

California’s head energy regulator went to Washington, D.C., last month to encourage Federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy scientists to come work for the Golden State to advance clean energy.

His trip was in response to the Trump Administration’s move in the opposite direction. Part of Trump’s anti-clean energy plan includes slashing the budgets for EPA and DOE in the areas of climate protection, including money for the Energy Star program.

The popular federal energy efficiency program provides valuable energy use information on many qualifying consumer and business appliances and residential and commercial buildings in and outside California. It was created by EPA in 1992. Four years later, the agency partnered with DOE on certain product categories.

Energy Star now covers more than 70 product categories, 1.6 million homes and 25,000 buildings across the nation, according to EPA. Product makers voluntarily participate in the efficiency certification and labeling program.

If the efforts of CPUC President Mike Picker draw federal scientists west, those working in the Energy Star program could combine their expertise with that of the California Energy Commission. Together they could create a voluntary state energy efficiency labeling program if the federal Energy Star gets axed.

That program could be called California Energy Stellar. It would be a big win for the state given that energy savings are considered the most important energy resource here. It also would be a boon because the state is relying heavily on increased energy efficiency to reach its greenhouse gas reduction mandates.

California is uniquely qualified to create such a state program, having led the way on vehicle, appliance and building efficiency standards.

Back in the 1960s, the state set the first auto emissions limits in the nation in response to terrible smog in Southern California. As part of that work the state built a testing lab in El Monte. The following decade, the Energy Commission started setting mandatory building and appliance energy efficiency standards. The CEC has and continues to develop codes and standards for appliances and building materials not covered by federal rules.

The Golden State’s decades of work has led to numerous public and private energy efficiency partnerships, including with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley, Davis, Riverside and San Diego and the private utilities. All of them conceivably could be brought on board to help develop the state’s own voluntary efficiency labeling scheme.

In short, energy efficiency here is big business.

Energy Stellar would entail continuing the existing federal program in California. In addition, as with its standards setting procedure, the Energy Commission would work with manufacturers, industry groups and other energy efficiency stakeholders during the development of the less contentious and quicker voluntary process for products not already in the federal program.

Additionally, there are key overlaps in mandatory state energy efficiency standards and the voluntary federal program. Both entail setting energy use consumption levels, one required to win an Energy Star label and the other required for products sold in California covered by CEC efficiency codes. Both require testing and third-party certification

Some manufacturers would balk at a state-only label, but in practice moving to a state Energy Stellar program wouldn’t fundamentally change things. The current federal Energy Star label used in California is state-specific and generally connotes efficiency that’s above and beyond the floor CEC sets for given products.

Energy Stellar would be cost-effective given inherent savings. The federal program is credited with savings of $362 billion in utility bills since its inception in 1992 and $26 billion in savings in 2012 alone.

The federal Energy Star budget is about $50 million a year. California’s three private utilities alone spend $1 billion annually on their energy efficiency programs.

A state program also would help meet California’s greenhouse gas reduction target of 40 percent below 1992 levels by 2030. The EPA estimates that Energy Star has resulted in 2.5 billion tons of greenhouse gas reductions since 1992.

Energy Star also is used on many qualifying products that lack federal or state energy efficiency codes. They include set-top boxes, slates and tablets, telephones, imaging equipment, data centers and servers and network equipment, according to the Albert Lundeen Energy Commission spokesperson. Other Energy Star-only products include commercial ovens, smart thermostats and electric vehicle charging stations.

Notably, the EPA is moving to capitalize on the Energy Star label in a soaring area for electricity industry: electric vehicle charging. In March, the agency announced it finalized its first-ever Energy Star specification for electric vehicle chargers.

EV charging station installations, which utilities plan to expand with utility ratepayer funds, are sure to become one of the biggest energy consuming products in our state.

Charging stations are a booming business opportunity for private and public utilities. Just last week, for example, Edison International president Pedro Pizarro told investment companies that charging stations will add some $1 billion to Southern California Edison’s rate base.

If California were to create a state energy efficiency labeling program, EPA has already done the ground work in the quickly growing area of EV chargers.

Expanding California’s energy efficiency world to subsume the equivalent of the federal Energy Star program would create stellar leadership towards a low carbon economy.

Elizabeth McCarthy

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