The U.S. state of New Jersey will raise the efficiency standards for appliances ranging from commercial clothes washers to exit signs to household torchere lamps if a measure now working its way through the state Legislature is adopted this fall.
The bill, which would set energy conservation standards for eight mostly commercial appliances would make the sale of anything more wasteful illegal in the state.
Many household appliances, from refrigerators to air-conditioners to fluorescent lamps, already meet national standards set more than 10 years ago -- and almost 20 years ago in some cases.
The New Jersey measure is part of a coordinated effort throughout the Northeast to set standards for products that are deemed wasteful but unlikely to be regulated anytime soon by the federal government.
By adopting the standards throughout the region, the bill's supporters hope to create a large market for the efficient products that ultimately will drive down the price.
New Jersey officials said the states were careful to pick products that are still considered fairly wasteful and for which the cost of the more-expensive model could be recouped in energy savings fairly quickly.
"They had to have a reasonable amount of savings and the payback had to reasonable too -- in a couple of years," said Mike Winka, director of the Office of Clean Energy for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and an adviser to a regional group promoting energy-efficiency standards.
The group, the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, concluded in its 2002 report that "for the Northeast, a densely populated region with significant environmental challenges and a relatively aged energy infrastructure, standards are an especially powerful and sensible policy tool."
The report found that if states throughout the region adopted efficiency standards for 15 common products, businesses and households would save U.S. $27 billion by 2020 and reduce the projected growth in annual electricity consumption by 24 percent.
"We're not pushing new technology. We're saying we shouldn't be selling the most egregiously wasteful products," said Emily Rusch, energy advocate for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group. "There are dozens and dozens of models out there that meet the standards for each of these products.
"For some of these items, such as traffic lights, the technology is finally there," Ms. Rusch continued. "This is clearly saving towns a lot of money, and we've gotten to the point that it makes sense to have a standard."
In New Jersey, the list of items under consideration is somewhat shorter than initially proposed. The bill's sponsors deleted ceiling fans, for example, after business groups objected, people familiar with negotiations over the bill said.
Richard Santoro, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, said his group thought it would cost an additional $50 per fan to raise the efficiency standards, although other groups say that figure is too high.
"To make ceiling fans more energy efficient you'd have to change the design," Mr. Santoro added. "The blades would have to look like sub propellers."
Many business groups object categorically to state standards for products, saying it puts an unfair burden on manufacturers and retailers to tailor products to a small market. Regional efforts, they say, result in a patchwork of regulations after the bills are amended by individual state legislatures.
Maryland, for example, included ceiling fans in its list of appliances. The state Legislature there overrode Gov. Robert Erlich's veto this past January to pass the bill.
"We think that national standards are preferable," said Sara Bluhm, director of legislative affairs for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "They put everyone on the same playing field."
California, under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, was the first state to set efficiency standards for appliances such as household refrigerators in the 1970s. Several states followed with their own standards.
The country first adopted national efficiency standards for many of those products in the late 1980s during the Reagan administration.
"Refrigerators use less than one-third of the electricity they did back in 1976," said Seema Singh, the New Jersey Ratepayer Advocate and a supporter of the bill. "These federal standards accomplished a lot but it has come to a plateau in the last few years. I think energy conservation plays a major role. It enables us to do more as we face finite energy resources. It also reduces emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide."
Asked what other products should be regulated, Mr. Singh noted, "Ceiling fans."
The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Ewing, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, was approved by the Assembly this summer and awaits action in the Senate.
It will be up to the BPU to enforce the policy, though Ms. Rusch said manufacturers generally comply once standards are adopted. "If there is a manufacturer not complying, often they'll tell on each other," she said. (NJ.com)
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