Is the ENERGY STAR Program Abandoning Average Consumers?

Aug. 15, 2013
The Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency is raising concern the EPA is pushing forward a proposal that would take ENERGY STAR windows and skylights out of reach for many average consumers, despite growing concern among tens of thousands of American citizens and leading ENERGY STAR partners.
By Sherry Delaney, Executive Director, Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency.

The EPA is pushing forward a proposal that would take ENERGY STAR windows and skylights out of reach for many average consumers, despite growing concern among tens of thousands of American citizens and leading ENERGY STAR partners.

Every few years, energy efficiency standards increase for ENERGY STAR–rated products. Historically, the process has been a collaboration between the federal government and manufacturers. But this time has been different. Version 6.0 requirements for residential windows, doors, and skylights, released recently, marks a sharp departure from the past practice of balancing consumer accessibility against the need to raise efficiency standards over time. In fact, it would result in an unprecedented 30% decrease in market share for ENERGY STAR–rated windows if the proposed Version 6.0 specification takes effect.

The ENERGY STAR program works for the environment because it works for average consumers.

Recent survey data from EPA found that 87% of Americans recognize the ENERGY STAR brand and 73% of those who bought ENERGY STAR–rated products intentionally chose them because they believe in the label’s promise of energy savings and lower utility bills. This promise is in jeopardy. That’s why Peter Welch (D-VT) and a bipartisan group of members of Congress sent a letter to the President to express concern that this taxpayer-funded program is abandoning that promise to consumers by changing its mission now.

The Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency has been educating consumers and mobilizing citizens through a petition, which has already gathered more than 20,000 signatures after raising concerns the program was intentionally taking ENERGY STAR products out of reach for average consumers.

Obviously we are disappointed that EPA hasn’t responded to our concerns in the final draft of Version 6.0, but Americans who value the ENERGY STAR program plan need to keep fighting. This proposal isn’t just anti-consumer, it’s anti-environment since average consumers will lose the clear guidance upon which they’ve grown to rely for making energy efficient improvements to their homes. If the EPA can make these kinds of anti-consumer changes for windows and skylights, who knows which products will be next. That’s why we’re asking Americans to contact EPA to save the ENERGY STAR program for average consumers.

But consumers aren’t the only ones raising concerns; industry leaders and long-time ENERGY STAR partners have voiced concerns as well. “Our members have been long-time ENERGY STAR partners and we cannot recall a time when the program set market share as a target,” said Michael O’Brien, CEO of the Window & Door Manufacturers Association. “Average consumers rely on the ENERGY STAR label to identify products that will save them enough on utility bills in a reasonable period to offset the cost of making a more energy efficient choice. We don’t understand why the program would take that away from such a large number of consumers.”

Leading retailers are also concerned: “Consumers expect the ENERGY STAR brand to deliver on affordability and efficiency, with any additional costs recouped in a relatively short payback period. That promise inherent in ENERGY STAR has become a hallmark of the program and an important consideration when selecting products,” said Michael Chenard, Director of Corporate Sustainability for Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

It’s estimated that middle-income households use 1/3 of all residential energy each year. With an estimated 1 billion single-paned windows still in use in American homes, the potential gain of upgrading to energy-efficient windows is huge. Replacing those windows with existing ENERGY STAR windows would save 1.12 quadrillion BTUs per year – an average of 20 million BTUs per house.

The proposed Version 6.0 criteria would change required energy performance ratings for windows and skylights in large parts of the country, and likely lead to the use of triple-paned products or other expensive technologies under the ENERGY STAR program. Most ENERGY STAR windows sold now are more affordable energy efficient double-paned products. Many of these still would be widely available to consumers but no longer ENERGY STAR qualified, forcing shoppers to decipher U-factors, solar heat gain coefficients and other such data on their own to decide which windows are a good value.

Let me be clear: We’re not opposed to increasing energy standards over time; we are opposed to ruining a successful program that has already saved Americans $230 billion on utility bills and prevented over 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon entering our atmosphere. The ENERGY STAR program has been good for our environment because it has been good for consumers. It’s worth fighting to save.

The public comment period for consumers to weigh-in on saving the ENERGY STAR program for closes September 6, 2013

About the Author

Kevin Normandeau | Publisher

Kevin is a veteran of the publishing industry having worked for brands like PC World, AOL, Network World, Data Center Knowledge and other business to business sites. He focuses on industry trends in the energy efficiency industry.

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