Energy regs come with $70M price tag

The Obama administration is moving forward with tougher energy efficiency standards that would cost manufacturers more than $70 million, but save consumers billions of dollars in energy bills.

The Department of Energy (DOE) said the new requirements for metal halide lamp fixtures and external power supplies will cut energy waste, save families money on their utility bills and reduce pollution.

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The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (OEERE) — a branch of the Energy Department that is behind the rules, which strengthen existing standards — plans to publish both in Monday's Federal Register. The agency said the new rules are "economically justified," because they would result in significant energy savings for the public. 

“By working with industry and efficiency groups, we are developing appliance standards that are saving billions of dollars while helping to fight carbon pollution,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement about the new rules. “Building on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Energy Department continues to make good progress to help communities and businesses save on their utility bills and build a more sustainable energy future.”

Metal halide lamp fixtures are big, bright lights that are commonly used at camp sites, parking lots, streets, warehouses, school gymnasiums and athletic facilities. 

These lighting systems somewhat distort the color in surrounding environments, said Joe Rey-Barreau, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, who consults for the American Lighting Association. So while they work well in outdoor settings, they are not so great for homes or inside retail stores where companies want their products to be shown in the best light possible. 

"The general public doesn't have any interaction with these lights other than when they go to a sports stadium," Rey-Barreau said.

Metal halide lamp fixtures already tend to be one of the more energy-efficient sources of light, according to Rey-Barreau. They are about five times more efficient than incandescent light bulbs and roughly the same level as florescent lights and LEDs. 

But the Energy Department has indicated it would like manufacturers to increase those efficiencies.

The agency estimates the metal halide lamp fixture rule could cost manufacturers $21.5 million. That includes nearly $18 million in losses for ballast manufacturers. Metal halide lamp fixtures uses ballasts to start and regulate the electrical current.

But the rule could also save the public up to $1.1 billion over 30 years, according to DOE estimates. 

The final rule will go into effect in two months, but companies would not be required to comply with the new rules until Feb. 10, 2017.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department also plans to publish new energy conservation rules for external power supplies.

The Energy Department estimates this rule could cost manufacturers $51 million, but that consumers would save as much as $3.8 billion in energy bills. The agency said it does not anticipate any plant closings or significant job cuts due to the rule.

The new rules would establish energy conservation standards for the minimum average efficiency of a device while it is in operation, and the maximum power consumption level when it is plugged in but not supplying power. These rules would amend existing energy conservations standards for some external power supplies and would also apply to other external power supplies that have never been regulated. 

It would also apply to all external power supplies that are manufactured in or imported to the United States by Feb. 10, 2016.

The Energy Department noted it has established new efficiency standards for more than 30 household items and commercial products like dishwashers, refrigerators and water heaters, during the Obama administration. It estimates these rules will save consumers more than $400 billion through 2030.