Opinion: The enviros’ misinformation campaign led to unnecessary regulations

Earlier this year, the first tier of the California Energy Commission’s (CEC’s) new energy use regulations for televisions took effect.

Rather than make more significant investments toward new renewable energy or electrical grid improvements, the CEC, prompted by local electric utilities and a misinformation campaign by environmental groups, chose to pursue unnecessary regulations that neither save energy nor support consumer choice and innovation.

Now many of the same parties that clamored for the unnecessary regulation of TVs in California are calling for the CEC to regulate several other categories of high tech products and equipment, including computers, servers, set-top boxes, computer monitors, digital photo frames, imaging equipment and game consoles.  Never mind that the EPA’s successful ENERGY STAR program is already in place at the national level covering and supporting energy efficiency in such products and equipment.

Rather than pursue further questionable regulation, which imposes costs on the state and local businesses, we think a look at what just occurred with televisions offers several lessons.  In fact, a new paper just published in the California Journal of Politics & Policy (CJPP) finds that California’s TV regulations were the result of a critically flawed report and analysis.

The authors of the CJPP paper found the CEC made many errors during its TV rulemaking, including wrongly assuming that more TVs being purchased meant more energy consumption. Because consumers are replacing older TVs with newer, more efficient TVs, the paper concluded energy costs would remain constant over time. Moreover, the researchers questioned the data, math and analysis the CEC used in arriving at the TV energy efficiency mandate.

The California Public Resources Code requires that proposed regulations must “not result in any added total costs to the consumer over the designed life of the appliances.”

However, the paper found the increased cost of compliance ($17 per TV) is greater than energy savings resulting from the new standards.

Most important, the paper revealed that the CEC’s most glaring error was ignoring the tremendous amount of global competition in the consumer electronics market, which has been propelling significant green innovation and improvements in the consumer electronics industry for years.

Innovation, competition and ENERGY STAR – a federal and voluntary program that the CEA supports – have reduced the amount of power needed per unit of screen size 63 percent for LCD TVs from 2003 to 2010 and 41 percent for plasma TVs from 2008 to 2010. To put the gains in context, the power consumption of the average TV sold in 2010 consumes less energy than a 100-watt incandescent light bulb and much less power than what is needed to light a typical living room.

Despite these impressive gains, California regulators are looking to impose energy mandates on more high-tech products, including game consoles and computers, as witnessed during a public meeting held by the CEC last week. The CEC appears to be following a familiar path toward creating unjustified regulatory requirements for consumer products while failing to account for the energy savings of existing policies and programs.

If the commission passes more prescriptive mandates, consumer electronics manufacturers face higher compliance costs, thwarting progress in making electronics smaller, faster, cheaper and more efficient. In other words, these rules actually make environmental progress harder to achieve.

California already suffers from high unemployment and a burdensome regulatory regime that harms innovation and stunts economic growth. The focus should be on recognizing and supporting existing, successful approaches to advancing energy efficiency that protect innovation, competition and consumer choice.

Let’s not repeat the mistakes made in the regulation of TVs in California. Energy efficiency is a laudable goal, and if we can achieve it while avoiding costly and questionable regulation, thereby saving money for consumers, businesses and the state, so much the better for our economy.

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