Where Do We Go From Here?
By now we have all heard that the regional energy conservation standards for residential natural gas non-weatherized and mobile home furnaces (regional standards) will not be enforced by the Department of Energy (DOE) pending the outcome of the lawsuit the American Public Gas Association fi led challenging them.
As I’m writing this, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has yet to rule on two motions before them in this case. First, is a settlement agreement that would rescind the standards and restart the rulemaking process. The second is a motion to delay the compliance date for the new residential natural gas furnace standards until the case is resolved.
We’re still in limbo about what the final outcome is, but based on what the DOE has said, contractors can still install furnaces in the Northern Region with an AFUE of under 90% in homes aft er May 1, 2013, without any repercussions to their businesses or their customers.
So, where do we go from here?
OK, I think we all agree that higher minimum efficiency standards for furnaces and air conditioners are not bad things. In fact, the industry as a whole is behind providing homeowners with more choices that are more efficient and help customers use less energy while saving money.
The issue with mandating 90% AFUE furnaces in the Northern Region is they simply pose too many problems for both homeowners and contractors, so instead of being a win-win situation, it is lose-lose.
For contractors there are a host of issues in making a blanket requirement for condensing furnaces in the Northern Region. How are we going to make our customers happy when we tell them that they have to spend thousands more to install a base model right, or that we were going to have to put the new unit in the middle of their basement family room? What about installations where the local Home Owners Association prohibits exposed PVC pipe? What about all the unscrupulous contractors (or homeowners) who would buy 80% AFUE furnaces on the internet (or bootleg them across the state line) and under bid us and take our customers?
And of course, there is no enforcement plan for these standards yet. Is the government going to make contractors keep records and report all installations? Because no enforcement plan has come out, we are left sitting in the dark waiting for answers.
Now, some contractors in the Northern Region feel all of this is coming too late. They feel that they are being made the bad guys, because they have been telling their customers, “Get your 80% furnaces installed now, because come May 1, 2013, they will be illegal.” Now, they can install them without any penalty and homeowners, who may have chosen to replace now feel jilted and lied to.
We all wish things would have happened differently. No one really wanted to have to have this challenged in court, but unfortunately there were just too many factors that made this not a good deal for anyone involved. And since contractors’ comments were ignored during the rulemaking process, the issues we knew would pop up were not considered.
As contractors, we need the DOE to understand we are for increased energy efficiency, but that in some cases, condensing furnaces are not practical or economically justified. We need to help them understand why that is and why there is a need for a waiver if the DOE were to require condensing furnaces.
We also need to get involved when they start developing an enforcement policy. We need to let them know that as small businesses, we can’t afford increased costs due to their rules about record keeping and reporting.
So, when ACCA asks us to submit comments on the proposed rule and enforcement, we do it. ACCA makes this easy through the Grassroots Action Center and by sending out legislative alerts.
As we wait to hear what the Court will decide, we need to prepare for either outcome. And we, as contractors, need to be ready to make our voices heard.
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