The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued an order and accepted a settlement that ended the legal challenge of the Department of Energy's (DOE) 2011 rules that would have set new minimum efficiency standards for a variety of residential HVAC products, including regional standards for furnaces and central air conditioners. ACCA was one of several parties of record on this important case.By accepting the settlement, the DOE's regional standards for non-weatherized natural gas and mobile home furnaces will be rescinded, and will be completely rewritten within two years.However, regional standards for central air conditioners will still go into effect on January 1, 2015. 13 SEER central air conditioners manufactured before January 1, 2015, may be installed in South and Southwest regions during an 18 month grace period ending July 1, 2016.
Furnace Efficiency Deadline Approaching Northern Region (Includes Colorado) Standards
If you have a finished basement or live in a town home or condo the new Regional Energy-Savings Standards can greatly affect you. On May 1, 2013 all furnaces that are sold and installed must be high efficiency condensing furnaces with a minimum 90% AFUE. This new mandate means that the existing venting systems in most homes will no longer be functional for furnace venting purposes. All condensing furnaces must be vented in PVC piping out the side of the home or up through the roof. In homes with finished basements or multi-unit dwellings such as town homes or condos extensive drywall repairs may be required for the new venting system to be installed.
Below is a press release from SWEEP’s (Southwest Energy Efficiency Project)
U.S. DOE Sets First Regional Energy-Savings Standards for Air Conditioners and Furnaces, Upgrades National Heat Pump Standards Effective May 1, 2013 The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a Direct Final Rule establishing the first-ever regional standards for central air conditioners and furnaces, as well as strengthened national standards for heat pumps. The new rules are based on a joint recommendation filed with DOE by a diverse coalition of consumer, manufacturing, and environmental groups in 2009.
Once the latest updated standards take effect, a typical new air conditioner in the South will use about 40% less energy, and a typical new furnace in the North will use about 20% less than before national standards were established in the late 1980s. According to DOE’s analysis, the improvements to the air conditioner and heat pump standards announced today will save 156 billion kilowatt hours of electricity over 30 years, or about enough to meet the total electricity needs of all the households in Indiana for three years, while delivering net savings of more than $4.2 billion to U.S. consumers.
The new furnace standards will save 31 billion therms of natural gas, or about enough natural gas over 32 years to heat all the homes in New York State for more than 11 years and save consumers $14.5 billion. Regarding SWEEP’s states, the regional standards require new furnaces to have an AFUE rating of at least 90% in Colorado and Utah, and central air conditioners and heat pumps to have an SEER rating of at least 14 in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled favorably today on an emergency motion filed by the Air-conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) requesting a stay of the May 1, 2013, compliance date for the regional furnace standards. In granting the motion, the Court is legally preventing the Department of Energy (DOE) from applying the standards or enforcing them until the underlying case is resolved.
Those standards, requiring residential non-weatherized natural gas furnaces to be installed in 30 northern states to have an AFUE rating of at least 90%, were finalized in 2011 with an effective date of May 1, 2013. Almost immediately those standards faced a legal challenge by the American Public Gas Association. ACCA joined in the challenge to the standards. After months of legal wrangling, a proposed settlement rescinding the rules for furnaces was filed with the Court in January 2013. Unfortunately the Court has not yet ruled on the settlement and the rules remain on the books.
Earlier this month, in light of the looming May 1 compliance date and the lack of a Court ruling on the settlement, the DOE announced through an "Enforcement Policy Statement" that the agency would enforce the rules as if the settlement agreement had been accepted. While DOE's announcement gave some relief from the uncertainty of the pending compliance date, the Court's action today legally prevents the agency from enforcing the rules until the case is resolved.
For now, the industry awaits the Court's ruling on the proposed settlement, so that the DOE can start over again on writing new standards for furnaces. However, should the Court reject the settlement the case would go to trial. At that point there are two possible outcomes. One is that the legal challenge would prevail and the rules would be officially stricken from the books. But if the rules are upheld and remain in place after a trial, then under this motion, the rules would take effect six months later.
ACCA will continue to monitor the activities surround this announcement and the lawsuit. We will continue to update all members and alert them of any new information. Sincerely, Charlie McCrudden ACCA, Vice President of Government Relations