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An idea so good that it’s mandated

That idea is so great that we’re going to mandate it.

Such is the backwards logic of every energy efficiency mandate to come from the federal government in recent years. The latest installment is the Department of Energy’s new standards on residential water heaters.  While this may sound harmless in theory, this policy’s effects will be anything but.

{mosads}To hear the DOE tell it, this new mandate will be a boost to the environment and a boon to family budgets. The 2015 standards will supposedly avoid about 172.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and save billions of dollars in utility bills.

What the DOE leaves out is that the price of hot water heaters will double or even triple—and the promised energy savings will likely take years to offset the difference.  A quick look at the ‘energy efficient’ units shows families will have to spend thousands of dollars more than they do today. For Latino households bringing in about $10,000 less than the national median, that’s money many simply don’t have.

These energy efficient models are also significantly larger than before. For the average family that has a small utility closet designed to house the standard models of today, this will require costly renovations the next time they need a replacement.

A textbook example of how these mandates reduce consumer choice and lead to higher prices is the recent requirement that we use energy-efficient light bulbs. Before the mandate, the warm glow of an inexpensive, basic incandescent light bulb cost less than a dollar – making it a popular choice among consumers.  Today, the replacement bulbs available are more expensive, and for what some consider to be an inferior product with light that strains the eyes and a bulb that burns white hot.  We’re told these new, more expensive light bulbs save us money over time due to longer lives and lower energy usage, and if that’s true we should be free to choose to use them on our own.

While swapping old technology with better, more efficient appliances is a noble goal, a government mandate is simply the wrong way to go about it. If these new appliances truly benefit us long term, consumers will increase their demand, likely leading to lower-priced models in the end. By forcing the consumption of these products, however, there is reduced incentive for manufacturers to increase product choice or find ways to make it less expensive.

This will have an especially significant impact on the Hispanic community. With $1.4 trillion in purchasing power, Latinos are a community that votes with its dollars. Yet when no choice is offered—as under the DOE’s energy efficiency mandates on water heaters—we lose the freedom to vote for what is best for us.

So, what to do? Some experts recommend replacing your water heaters before the April implementation. Yet this short-term patch won’t plug the long-term hole that is this regulation. A better solution would be to strip such energy efficiency mandates out root and branch. That is the only way to rid the restrictions they impose on consumer choice and the higher prices that result.

Dimino is the senior policy manager at The LIBRE Initiative, a conservative advocacy organization that focuses on Latinos. The LIBRE Initiative receives funding from numerous sources including the energy industry.



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