California sets the gold standard on good energy policy

In an era where the heads of federal agencies seem more intent on dismantling their agencies, rather than effectively meeting their congressional mandates, states have little choice but to lead on issues important to them. And yet, state leadership can provide those same agency heads with exactly the right formula for how to meet their stated goals, helping businesses thrive, saving consumers money, protecting the environment and ensuring that regulation is cost-effective and not overly-burdensome. 

Agencies like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency need look no further for an example of federalism at its best than the California Energy Commission’s approach to setting energy efficiency standards for inefficient electronics and appliances.

The state’s energy commission has seemingly hacked the system with its new “road map” approach to investigating mechanisms and policies that tackle inefficient appliances that inflate consumer utility bills. The model will be in action at commission workshops this week, as industry joins advocates and other stakeholders to explore the best way forward. 

 

The Consumer Federation of America works every day to support policies that cost effectively save consumer’s money and we have participated in the California commission’s consultative process. We know that consumer protections are often hard-won at all levels of government. So when we see state leadership that produces results for all stakeholders, we take note. This roadmap approach is singularly innovative because it invites industry to the table well before there is even a suggestion of a new standard.

California has a long history of implementing energy efficiency standards, encouraging innovation and leveling the playing field in the nation’s biggest statewide market. The state pioneered appliance efficiency standards in the 1970s, and Washington followed suit in the 1980s. As a result, new refrigerators use 75 percent less electricity and cost half as much. Clothes washers use 75 percent less energy. And dishwashers draw half as much power. In a report submitted to Energy Department last week, in response to a request for suggestions on reducing regulation, the federation defended efficiency standards, finding that they have saved consumers over a trillion dollars.

Based on decades of experience, the California Energy Commission has developed a way to bring industry, consumer and environmental stakeholders together in a process that works. Prior to any rulemaking, the commission conducts a call-out to stakeholders, an invitation to participate and submit data to better understand the industry landscape. In this way the commission creates true partners in its stakeholders who help to develop good policies that save consumers money and helps businesses to thrive.

California’s approach to American federalism has repeatedly paid-off for consumers: last year California adopted first-in-the-nation energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors with the support of industry, environmentalists and consumer advocates such as Consumer Federation of America. Those standards will save enough energy to power 350,000 California homes per year. And because the state is such a large market, no matter where you live, new computers will save you money in the future. 

The roadmap process has now led the commission to invite stakeholders to look for opportunities to address the energy waste of electronics. In 2017, they aim to look at a number of important areas, including “energy vampires,” appliances or devices with an “always on” mode, which continues to pull electricity while not in use. 

One study of California homes found 23 percent of the electricity consumed was flowing to devices that were not actively being used. Across the country, $19 billion per year — about $150 per household — is wasted by electricity-sucking vampires, from televisions to coffee makers to phone chargers. This is a complicated problem to solve, but in exploring the landscape with the participation of industry, California is taking the right approach. 

It’s an approach with an economic reward. Since the Great Recession, per capita income has grown 1.6 times faster than the rest of the U.S., as California has pushed energy efficiency policy forward. For decades before that, holding electricity consumption flat on a per capita basis was a key to its economic success.  We encourage state leaders to look to California for a business-friendly path to developing standards that will prevent discord and encourage cooperation. 

California’s example of self-sufficiency and dedication to producing sound policy can be replicated nationwide. And, if the federal trend to rollback important consumer protection standards continue, then it really is up to the states to employ a process that gets all of us moving forward together.

Mark Cooper is director of research for the Consumer Federation of America, a national association of nearly 280 non-profit organizations working to advance the interests of consumers. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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