This article was originally published in the September/October 1999 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1999

in energy

Appliance Efficiency--California in the Vanguard Again

The California Energy Commission (CEC) published the nation's first appliance efficiency regulations in 1976. The regulations set minimum performance standards for those appliances whose use requires a significant amount of energy on a statewide basis. They also required manufacturers to certify the performance of their products to the commission as a condition of sale in the state. They did not establish labels; this was done later by the federal government.

Adjustments to these standards have been made periodically since then. Currently, the CEC is conducting its first rulemaking in seven years to update these regulations. The update sets a precedent in that the commission is considering adopting California standards for all products subject to the provisions of the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) or the Energy Policy Act (EPAct). The effect on the nation will be that there will be an accessible database listing the performance of all federally regulated appliances. The effects on other states will be that they will have this information to use in programs to encourage the use of energy-efficient appliances.

The following events have made such a rulemaking necessary at this time:

  • The regulations reference more than 20 different test methods that are developed and maintained by others. Every year, several of these test methods are updated. The CEC needs to change its regulations to ensure that the latest edition of each standard is referenced.
  • EPAct was signed into law by President Bush in 1992. Among many other provisions, it established federal minimum performance requirements for commercial air conditioners, commercial furnaces, commercial boilers, commercial water heaters, hot-water storage tanks, plumbing fittings, plumbing fixtures, some lamps, and some electric motors. To protect California consumers from any possible attempts to repeal these provisions or to reduce their scope (as described below), the CEC is considering adopting California standards that mirror them. EPAct requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop labeling provisions for commercial air conditioners, commercial furnaces, commercial boilers, commercial water heaters, and hot-water storage tanks. Since DOE has taken no action on this legislative mandate (DOE postponed indefinitely action on the labeling provisions of EPAct as part of its rulemaking for commercial equipment), California is considering developing its own provisions, which may well become federal provisions when DOE finds the time and resources to carry out its congressional mandate. Also, If California already has labeling provisions in effect, manufacturers would be expected to prefer that the federal provisions be consistent with them.
  • The CEC recognizes that virtually all efforts to improve the efficiency of energy-using equipment depend on (1) the existence of suitable, generally accepted test methods, (2) the general use of those methods, and (3) the public availability of reliable, model-by-model performance data using these test methods. Consequently, the CEC is considering adopting mandatory reporting provisions for the energy performance data of several appliances for which no minimum efficiency level will be specified. Such provisions already exist for commercial refrigerators and spot air conditioners. The collected data will be included in the CEC's appliances database, which already lists the performance of more than 65,000 different models and which is publicly accessible on the Internet at
  • The data in the database must be reliable. For many appliance models, there is industry-sponsored certification and verification. However, some manufacturers choose not to participate in the industry programs, and not all models are subject to the programs. The CEC is therefore considering requiring the submission of test reports from an independent laboratory to support submissions for such models. This would improve the accuracy of the database and also encourage participation both in existing programs and the launching of new programs.
The CEC is acting in part because it feels that it needs to safeguard the benefits of EPAct for California consumers. Attempts have been made to repeal or reduce the scope of the EPAct provisions in several ways:

  1. In 1996, Congress imposed a one-year moratorium on the development of new federal standards, thus making it impossible for DOE to carry out the NAECA and EPAct congressional mandates.
  2. DOE has been consistently underfunded to carry out its mandates under NAECA and EPAct.
  3. Congress has been debating bills that would repeal the EPAct provisions for plumbing fixtures and fittings.
  4. DOE, in its rulemaking for commercial appliances, has been considering reducing the scope of the regulations from the scope agreed to in the enabling legislation.
  5. DOE, in its regulations, has defined the scope for the residential water heater test procedure in such a way that there is no test procedure for some water heaters that are subject to NAECA.
In September 1999, the CEC will hold a workshop to discuss these proposals and the commission staff's reports. (The date has been tentatively set for September 2, 1999.) This workshop will be followed by the publication of the official draft amended regulations. Another workshop to discuss this official draft will be held in November 1999. All commission workshops are open to the public, and anyone may participate. Adoption of the amended regulations is expected in December 1999 or January 2000.

The big-picture implications of these actions are that the CEC is considering requiring manufacturers to provide performance data for a larger range of appliances than at present, and to make these data widely available to the public electronically. The commission is also considering a provision that will make the performance data of companies that choose not to participate in industry certification and verifications programs more reliable.

--Michael Martin

Michael Martin is a registered engineer on the staff of the California Energy Commission and is the technical lead in this rulemaking.

For details, contact:
Betty Chrisman, Appliances Program Manager, California Energy Commission, Tel:(916) 654-4080, E-mail: Visit the CEC's Web site at



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