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A fork in the road

The US government has come in for criticism by the industry for introducing energy regulations that are said to be uneconomically feasible, says Francis Dietz

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) is engaged in the development and review of minimum energy efficiency standards for several HVACR and water heating products, as well as work related to the continued use of industry refrigerants, among many other issues.

The US Department of Energy (DOE), the agency in charge of issuing regulations related to energy use at the direction of the President, has been very aggressive in recent years, setting new energy conservation standards in some cases at levels that AHRI believes are not economically justified or technically feasible.

Last summer, DOE finalised three rules affecting AHRI member companies, which manufacture HVACR and water heating products. Two of the rules, regarding commercial refrigeration equipment and walk-in coolers and freezers, are being challenged in court by AHRI. The third, on furnace fan energy efficiency, will significantly increase the testing burden on manufacturers.

AHRI also has been actively involved in several ongoing rulemakings expected to be completed this year. These rulemakings involve residential boilers, commercial ice makers, packaged terminal equipment, unitary large products, commercial furnaces, single package vertical units, commercial fans, and commercial boilers.

There is also an ongoing negotiated rulemaking for commercial and industrial fans and blowers – negotiated rulemaking is AHRI’s preferred method of developing rules, as it includes all stakeholders in the rule, allowing for a fair, data-driven process.

By including manufacturers and other industry experts in the development of the rule, many pitfalls can be avoided. For example, the rules that AHRI is challenging in court include, in our view, flawed data and calculations that could have been avoided had a negotiated rulemaking taken place.

The negotiated rulemaking is conducted by a Commercial and Industrial Fans and Blowers Working Group under the Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee, otherwise known as ASRAC.

The group has met several times to negotiate definitions, certain test procedure provisions (as applicable), proposed energy conservation standards (including scope of the applicable standards), and specific certification/labelling provisions as necessary to implement the regulatory approach for the ongoing rulemaking, with a consensus deadline of 6 August.

AHRI is hopeful that a consensus will be reached, which will eliminate the need for a traditional rulemaking process.

Legislative awareness

In Congress, AHRI has been successful in raising legislative awareness of the serious issues surrounding a proposed rule for non-weatherised gas residential furnaces.

This proposed rule from the DOE would raise the national annual fuel utilisation efficiency (AFUE) from 80 per cent to 92 per cent for natural gas furnaces.

On 8 June, 120 members of the House of Representatives, including 116 Republicans and four Democrats, sent a letter to the agency’s secretary, Ernest Moniz, urging him to reconsider the rule.

The lawmakers warned that “by setting a nationwide energy efficiency standard that precludes a consumer from choosing to install a non-condensing furnace, DOE will be forcing many homeowners either to abandon the use of natural gas to heat their homes or pay substantially more for the installation of a furnace that meets the new standard.”

The lawmakers added that they “strongly encourage DOE to avoid such an ‘either-or’ approach to furnace efficiency, by establishing separate product classes for condensing and non-condensing furnaces, each with its own efficiency standard.”

The week prior, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing in which DOE deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency Kathleen Hogan was questioned by members about the impact of the proposed rule, including its financial implications for manufacturers and consumers.

The committee also expressed concern over setting a national AFUE, when the US has a variety of climate regions. In fact, the committee questioned Hogan expressly regarding the DOE’s “aggressive efficiency push”.

The same hearing included discussion of a policy framework document, Architecture of Abundance: A Legislative Framework, which aims to craft comprehensive energy legislation.

The hearing specifically examined two specific topics: energy-efficiency, which the committee has said will “capitalise on energy efficiency opportunities across the private and public sectors by facilitating the development and deployment of innovative technologies and encouraging energy savings techniques”; and accountability, which the committee has said will seek to “bring greater transparency, fairness, and certainty to energy market participants”.

Hogan noted that the Administration is continuing to review the energy efficiency provisions contained within the discussion draft, and has not yet formulated a position.

Despite setbacks in the rulemaking process, AHRI and DOE often have the same goals.

Last year, AHRI member companies pledged to invest $5bn in research and development funds over the next decade to develop the next-gen refrigerants and the air conditioning and refrigeration equipment in which they will be used.

AHRI has been proactive in developing refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP). The results of the first phase of the evaluation program are available on AHRI’s website, at www.ahrinet.org/AREP.  

Francis Dietz is vice-president, public affairs, Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute

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