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Next Steps For Regional Standards

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s ruling that stayed the proposed regional energy  conservation standards for residential non-weatherized natural gas and mobile home furnaces had no impact on other new energy conservation standards for residential heating and cooling appliances.

With so much attention on the controversial furnace rules, it’s easy to overlook the fact that new standards for nine other appliances are set to go into effect in less than 18 months. Some of these products will have complicated regional standards. And we still don’t know how the Department of Energy (DOE) intends to enforce these standards.

On January 1, 2015, new standards will go into effect for weatherized natural gas furnaces, weatherized oil-fi red furnaces, split-system central air conditioners, split-system heat pumps, single-package air conditioners, single-package heat pumps, small-duct, high-velocity systems, space-onstrained air conditioners and space constrained heat pumps. (Download Regional Standards Map)

Most of these will have a single, national standard, so as long as they are manufactured to the new standards, they can be installed anywhere. But for two popular product categories, split-system air conditioners and single package air conditioners, complicated regional standards apply depending on the installation location and size of the equipment.

The regional standards map for split-system air conditioners and single-package air conditioners is very similar to the one used in the challenged furnace rule. But instead of two regions there are three: the Northern, Southeastern, and Southwestern.

In the Northern region, the standard for split system central air conditioners remains at 13 SEER. But in the Southeastern region, the new standard will be 14 SEER. Where it gets tricky is the Southwestern region where the rules added a minimum EER value based on the size of the system. If the system is less than 45,000 BTU, it must rate at least 14 SEER and 12.2 EER. If the system is greater than or equal to 45,000 BTU, it must rate at least 14 SEER and 11.7 EER.

For single-package air conditioners, the standards in the Northern and Southeastern regions are the same: 14 SEER. But in the Southwestern region, the new standard is 14 SEER and 11 EER.

Now the question is how the DOE will enforce the regional standards?

When Congress granted the DOE the authority to set regional standards it also required the agency to create an enforcement plan within 18 months of finalizing any rule with regional standards. The 18 month clock for the October 2011 Direct Final Rule ran out in January with very little action from the DOE.

In December of 2011 the DOE floated three enforcement approaches for contractors with increasing levels of compliance through record keeping and or the reporting of installation location information.

Under Approach 1, contractors would be required to install HVAC equipment in the appropriate region.

Under Approach 2, contractors would be required to install HVAC equipment in the appropriate region, and maintain records and paperwork about each installation.

Under Approach 3, contractors would be required to install HVAC equipment in the appropriate region, maintain records and paperwork about each installation, and be required to provide their distributors with serial numbers and installation address for each installation. Also under Approach 3, distributors would be required to collect the serial number, installer information, and installation address from contractors, then report model number, efficiency, serial number, and installation zip code to the DOE.

Aside from the fact that installation addresses are one of the few trade secrets for contractors, the question remains whether the government can require a contractor to collect and report this information to another entity.

Finding a practical and viable solution to enforcement is going to be a challenge. Look at the geographical anomaly on the border between Maryland and West Virginia. Maryland, a  southern state where 14 SEER is the minimum standard lies north of the West Virginia panhandle where 13 SEER is the minimum. The border of Ohio and Kentucky, is also going to be very difficult to police. And then there’s the growing trend of consumers buying HVAC equipment online.

As the DOE develops a plan to enforce these rules, ACCA will be actively participating in this process to make sure any enforcement scheme is strong enough to protect the upstanding contractor, but without burdening them with paperwork requirements or compromising their confidential business information.

Charlie McCrudden

Posted In: ACCA Now, Government

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