Confusion Over New Regional Energy Conservation Standards for Split Central Air Conditioners


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New regional energy conservation standards for split system central air conditioners went into effect earlier this year, but a lack of an “official” enforcement plan has led to a lot of confusion about how enforcement will work and when contractors have to comply.

ACCA was a member of a special Department of Energy (DOE) Working Group of contractors, manufacturers, distributors, utilities, and energy efficiency advocates tasked with developing a practical and effective regional standards enforcement plan. The proposal is expected to be published in the Federal Register very soon and subject to a 30-day review and comment period.

The whole point of a the proposal was to prevent 13 SEER systems from being installed in the Southeast or Southwest states and to identify and punish any individual who installs them there.

The industry always knew that enforcing regional standards would be problematic when 13 SEER units were bound to “leak” across the border or wind up for sale online?

Adding to the confusion was the 18 month grace period that allowed for the installation of 13 SEER units in the Southeast or Southwest regions through June of 2016, as long as they were manufactured before January 1, 2015. This sell through period was important to manufacturers and distributors.

Participants quickly found that solving the enforcement plan puzzle was way more complicated than anyone realized. Split system central air conditioners are assembled from component parts (and those components can be mixed and matched), but the performance rating is only applied to the condensing unit. That meant we had to answer the question What is a 14 SEER system?

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The Working Group settled on an interpretation that said the least efficient rating combination for a specific model of condensing unit must be 14 in the Southeast and Southwest regions. This means an installer cannot use a 13 SEER condensing unit matched with a coil that might achieve 14 SEER. It also means 13 SEER condensing units cannot be used as replacement parts in the Southeast or Southwest regions (but a 14 SEER condensing unit would be ok).

In order to make it easier for all stakeholders to play a part in the enforcement plan, manufacturers agreed to amend their internal processes to create North-only basic models for testing and rating purposes. This means that condensing units intended for installation in the North will have a nameplate that includes text that says “Only for installation in the North region”.

Violations
The law passed by Congress allowing for regional standards did not make it a violation for a contractor to install a non-compliant system in a state covered by regional standards. The law only says “it shall be unlawful for any manufacturer or private labeler to knowingly sell a product to a distributor, contractor, or dealer with knowledge that the entity routinely violates any regional standard applicable to the product.”

This upside down penalty scheme meant contractors wouldn’t be punished for installing 13 SEER systems; instead, civil penalties would be assessed on the manufacturers if they are found to knowingly sell equipment to routine violators. But the law didn’t define “knowingly” or “routine violators”.

Once a contractor is determined to be a routine violator, manufacturers, and distributors will pay civil penalties for selling that contractor any of the following: split-system central air conditioners, split system heat pumps, single package air conditioners, single package heat pumps, small duct, high velocity systems, space-constrained air conditioners, and space-constrained heat pumps. This is, in effect, a “death penalty” for any contractor found to be a routine violator, based on the frequency of the violations, percentage of violation vs. all installs, intent, evidence of training to the regional standards, as well as other factors. However, routine violators can remediate any illegal installations to get off the routine violator list.

The enforcement plan would require that contractors to maintain records about the equipment they install in the Southeast and/or Southwest regions for a period of five years, including manufacturer, model and serial number of the outdoor unit, and the manufacturer and model number of the indoor unit on a split system central air conditioner, as well as the location of the installation, including street address, city, state, and zip code, the date of the installation, and the party from which the unit was purchased, including company or individual’s name, address, and phone number. The records could be maintained in electronic or paper form and reviewable only upon request. Most contractors are already recording this information in some format or another. If the request is ignored, DOE does have subpoena authority to go after the records.

The DOE is expected to release the enforcement plan in the coming weeks for public comment. Once finalized, the DOE will publish a Final Rule in the Federal Register, which would become effective 30 days later.

Charlie McCrudden

Posted In: ACCA Now, Government, Legal

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