Since 1992, U.S. consumers have been able to turn to ENERGY STAR® to quickly identify home products that are energy efficient. The array of products shown on energystar.gov range from small energy-use products, such as light bulbs and thermostats, to energy-hungry appliances such as air conditioners and boilers—until now.
Furnaces & Central Air Conditioners
On May 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will be removing furnaces and central air conditioners from ENERGY STAR® by modifying its Version 4.1 for furnaces and Version 6.1 for central air conditioners, effective Dec. 30, 2024; there will be no new applications accepted after Dec. 30, 2023.
The plan was revealed in a letter to manufacturers, wherein the EPA stated, “With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, EPA sees an unprecedented opportunity for the ENERGY STAR® program to support the national transition to the most energy efficient equipment available.” It further stated that this is the time to focus on “the ENERGY STAR® label on efficient electric products like air source heat pumps in order to highlight products that reduce energy consumption, improve energy security and reduce pollution. In fact, heat pumps are as much as four times more efficient than even the most efficient condensing gas furnaces. Notably, while indoor NOx pollution is associated with gas appliances, electric appliances are not responsible for any direct emissions and garner significant emissions reductions even when source or upstream emissions from electricity generation are factored in.”
The EPA has recognized that, in the coldest climates, households may not be comfortable relying solely on heat pumps and “therefore may retain their existing furnaces for the long term.”
The sunsetting of furnaces and central air conditioning will only remove them from the Energy Star program and will not prevent their manufacture, sale or installation.What is does do is prevent consumer access to “simple, credible and unbiased information” that more than 70 million homeowners and business owners rely upon to make informed decisions when choosing among 12,000 products when replacing or installing a new furnace or air conditioner. This decision is made thousands of times a day across the U.S., often in wake of a furnace or air conditioner failure, severely limiting the time the consumer has to make a replacement decision. The information offered by ENERGY STAR® may be the quickest way for the consumer to make the bestdecision regarding energy efficiency, regardless of the fuel source or the system operating type.
The EPA allowed for comments to be submitted by June 22. An industry coalition of trade associations assembled to strategize on how to craft a unified comment; the coalition consisted of American Gas Association (AGA), American Public Gas Association (APGA), Energy Marketers of America (EMA), National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), National Energy & Fuels Institute (NEFI), Oilheat Manufacturers Association (OMA) and Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC).
The submitted comments include arguments as to EPA’s legal authority to make this change with the deadlines it proposes (227 days vs 270 days as required by law); its deviation from ENERGY STAR®’s stated purpose to “provide[s] simple, credible, and unbiased information that consumers and businesses rely on to make well-informed decisions;” the real-world fact that fuel-fired furnaces and air conditioners often provide a better choice over heat pumps when fuel costs, conversion costs and building compatibility are considered; and consumer reliance on ENERGY STAR® for efficiency information.
Additional arguments covered limiting fuel choice and questioning some of the premises put forth by ENERGY STAR®. One such premise states that “leading up to this sunset proposal, EPA has heard from a range of stakeholders emphasizing the opportunity the Agency has to focus the ENERGY STAR® label on efficient electric products like air source heat pumps in order to highlight products that reduce energy consumption, improve energy security and reduce pollution.” The coalition argued that the EPA failed to show examples of this feedback, from whom it came and the amount. It also failed to provide analysis or studies on energy consumption, improved energy security or pollution reduction.
In addition to the “joint comments” submission, many of the associations also submitted their own comments. OMA, representing manufacturers of liquid- and bio-fuel appliances, made many of the same arguments and emphasized the value of continued inclusion of their products because of the products’ ability to reduce carbon emission with the use of low carbon fuels, such as biodiesel. A strong case was made for the liquid fuel heating industry’s voluntary and ever-increasing transition to carbon-reduced fuels and systems and how, considering EPS’ increased interest in carbon reductions—along with energy efficiency—eliminating those products from consumer view is ill-advised.
NEFI and its legislative action team have contacted both Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who have agreed to lead a bipartisan letter opposing the EPA proposal. NEFI has also created an industry-wide call to action campaign where interested parties can easily contact the Biden administration and register their comments. This can be found here. https://bit.ly/ProtectEnergyStar.
As of this writing, there has been no official response from EPA to the comments regarding the furnace and air conditioning sunset.
Shortly following the notice on furnaces and air conditioners (June 5), the EPA released a similar notice stating the boilers will face an ENERGY STAR® “sunset,” as well, in favor of the newer technology of water to air heat pumps. Citing some of the same arguments for eliminating furnaces, the EPA noted, “Our proposal also reflects the longstanding high market share of the boilers specification and the lack of additional cost-effective differentiation above current ENERGY STAR® levels.”
Along with the boiler sunset proposal, EPA is launching a new specification to cover heat pump hydronic heating appliances based upon test methods to be developed by EPA and the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE).
EPA stated that, while the market share of ENERGY STAR® boilers is high and it has a continuing responsibility to provide consumers with information on energy efficiency, it anticipates no substantial improvements in boiler energy efficiency in the foreseeable future and therefore, no inherent reason to continue to include boilers in the program. As with furnaces and air conditioners, the proposal to sunset the ENERGY STAR® boiler specification will in no way affect consumers’ continued access to, or the availability of, boilers.
Once again, EPA is calling for comments regarding the boiler sunset proposal, with a deadline of July 7. ICM