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The Regional Standards Lawsuit Is Over…Now What?

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I don’t think I’m not alone when I say that I’m thankful that the lawsuit challenging the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2011 Direct Final Rule (DFR) setting regional standards for residential furnaces and central air conditioners, among other energy efficiency standards, is over. It’s been a long battle that pitted some industry partners against each other and left a lot of contractors scratching their heads.

So, what exactly does that settlement mean for contractors? Well here is how I see it:

The standards for non-weatherized natural gas and mobile home furnaces that were supposed to go into effect in May 1, 2013, have officially been repealed. The DOE has one year to propose a new rule and another year to finish it.

Regional standards for central air conditioners that go into effect on January 1, 2015, are still in play. However, the settlement created a grace period for installing stockpiled 13 SEER units in the Southeastern and Southwestern regions, but those units have to be manufactured before January 1, 2015, and the grace period ends on July 1, 2016.

The DOE will start a rulemaking that will create an enforcement plan for the regional standards on central air conditioners, which must include input from all stakeholders.

This is a huge victory for contractors and we should all be glad that the industry and the government have reached an agreement. But, that does not mean our work is over.

We Have 8 Months
There are only eight months left in 2014 and that means we have just eight months to prepare for the next set of regional standards to go into effect. Yes, part of the agreement is an 18 month grace period that will help prevent stranded inventory, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be ready to meet the standards on January 1.

On January 1, 2015, the following minimum standards for split-system air conditioners will go into effect:
Northern Region: 13 SEER
Southeastern Region: 14 SEER
Southwestern Region: Thing get more complicated in the Southwestern region where the new standard is 14 SEER plus 12.2EER for units with a rated cooling capacity less than 45,000 Btu/h or 11.7 EER for units with a rated cooling capacity equal to or greater than 45,000 Btu/h.

The Northern region stays in line with the current national efficiency standard that has been in place since 2006.

While the Southeastern and Southwestern regions will need to meet higher efficiency standards.

The key to preparing for these changes is to educate our customers on what the new standards are and how higher efficiency units can, and will, benefit them through lower energy bills and improved indoor comfort. We also need to educate them on quality installations, because as we all know that if the unit is not sized and installed properly, it will not perform at the efficiency level it was designed to.

New Efficiency Standards Aren’t All We Need To Be Preparing For
While it seems that for the remainder of the year we only need to be prepping for the January 1, 2015, implementation day; that is far from the truth. There are two other things that we need to have on our radar when it comes to regional efficiency standards.

The first thing we are going to see is the DOE rulemaking for enforcement. We need to be on our toes about this one, because we need to make sure that whatever the DOE proposes is fair to all parties and is not over burdening contractors.

ACCA will be watching closely for the start of the rulemaking and will analyze what is suggested. As they always do, they will summarize it for us and ask for our comments. When they ask for our help, we must give it to them, because this rulemaking could completely change the way we do business.

The second thing we are going to see is the rulemaking process on standards for non-weatherized natural gas and mobile home furnaces restarted. To make sure we are not caught in another situation where we have no say, we again must voice our opinions on how the new proposal will impact us and our customers. Again, ACCA will help us understand what is being proposed and let us know when we need to provide comments.

If we fail to act when we have the opportunity, then we will again be left out of the process and will have to live with the consequences. So, pause for a moment and breathe a sigh of relief that the lawsuit is over. Then it is time to get back to work, because the next 24 months are going to be busy and it’s our job to make sure contractors’ voices are heard.

Kevin Walsh
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Government, Residential Buildings

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