Clinton proposes tougher efficiency rules for air, heat in new homes

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After a summer of brownouts, the Clinton administration proposed efficiency standards Tuesday that would require new home central air conditioners and heat pumps to use 20 percent to 30 percent less electricity.

The increased cost of the improvements — $274 more for the air units and $486 for a typical heat pump — would be more than offset by consumers’ electricity savings over time, Energy Department officials said.

"By reducing electricity costs we are helping consumers save money," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who announced the proposal that is expected to be made final later this year.

He said the new standards — along with more stringent efficiency requirements for four other appliances already announced or about to be proposed — will also ease the threat of summer brownouts and help cut pollution linked to climate change.

Separately, the department will propose this week that clothes washers be required to use 35 percent less water and energy beginning in 2007.

These high-efficiency washers are expected to cost $240 more than today’s washers, but the additional cost is expected to be recouped in seven years through energy and water savings, the department estimated.

Some environmental and energy efficiency advocates were quick Tuesday to criticize the standards.

"It falls well short of what’s needed and what’s justified," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standard Awareness Project, a Boston-based coalition of consumer and energy efficiency groups that also includes a number of electric utilities.

The proposed standard would require that beginning in 2006 all central home air-conditioning units meet a minimum seasonal efficiency ratio, or SEER — the common measurement of appliance efficiency — of 12, compared to the minimum of 10 under the current standard.

Manufacturers contend a higher standard would make the low-end products — now available at modest costs and purchased by most customers — too expensive for many homeowners to buy, even if they provide eventual energy cost savings.

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