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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

New TV Rules in the Golden State

Air Date: Week of

Flat screen TVs are some of the most energy intensive appliances in the home.

Flat screen televisions are some of the most energy thirsty appliances in your home. Now, the California Energy Commission is about to set new mandatory energy standards for TVs. Host Jeff young speaks with LA Times reporter Marc Lifsher.


YOUNG: It's Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young.

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood. So do you know what single appliance in your home uses the most electricity? If you said the refrigerator you’d be right - thirty years ago. But today – beyond temperature control and lighting – your big flat-screen TV could be the most energy thirsty appliance. Now the California Energy Commission plans to put televisions on an energy diet, with new TV efficiency standards, similar to those set for refrigerators three decades ago. The California commission could vote on the proposed regulations as early as Nov 4th. Marc Lifsher from the Los Angeles Times joins us to explain what’s on the table. Hello there, Marc!


CURWOOD: So, what will these new proposed rules say?

LIFSHER: They’ll set definite standards for electricity consumption for televisions, and that would include the LCDs, the old standard cathode-ray tubes – if they’re still around – and plasma TV’s and rear-projection TV’s. The standards will kick in in 2011 and then will become more stringent in 2013. For now, it will only affect TV’s 58 inches and smaller.

CURWOOD: Now, what’s different about this from, say, the Energy Star program?

LIFSHER: The Energy Star program is a federal program, it’s a voluntary and it’s a mean of informing consumers through large tags and information showing what are the most energy-efficient products of that type available in the store. California’s rules, when they’re passed, will be mandatory, and no TV that doesn’t comply will be able to be sold after the dates that it goes into effect.

CURWOOD: So, why is California making this rule now?

LIFSHER: California, after studying this issue for a couple of years, came to the conclusion that the television and the related equipment like TiVos and DVD players now account for about ten percent of household electrical use. And, that’s up from two to three percent from just a decade ago, and it’s a very, very fast-growing segment, and they figure they can limit it now before it gets larger.

CURWOOD: So what kind of savings are we talking about, in terms of energy, and in terms of money?

LIFSHER: The commission estimates that the savings will be $912 million in the first year. It will be about $30 per television set. And they estimate that it will save eight point one billion over the first ten years, and it will eliminate the need to spend about 650 million to build at least one large, gas-fired power plant.

CURWOOD: And, Marc, if I walked into a TV store today, how many of those being sold would meet the likely California standards?

Flat screen TVs are some of the most energy intensive appliances in the home.

LIFSHER: The manufacturers say there are already scores of TVs that do meet the standards for 2011, and even some that meet them for 2013, which is more stringent. And the manufacturers including industry leader, Visio of Irvine, California; they say they’ll have no problem meeting or exceeding the standards at the dates that they kick in. Some other manufacturers are a bit more skittish; they in general don’t like the idea of regulations. They’d rather just do it on their own and let innovation take its course – they argue that the efficiency will come no matter what – you don’t need government rules.

CURWOOD: So, what’s in this for consumers?

LIFSHER: Well, they’ll save on their electric bills every month, and they’ll get a TV that’s just as good in quality as the ones now, and maybe better with the natural innovation that’s going on. And, other than that, it shouldn’t affect them at all.

CURWOOD: So, if California has this standard, what about folks going to nearby states? The drive over to Nevada to get a TV that doesn’t have these restrictions might be a bit cheaper. Would jobs be lost? What about the sale tax revenue for the state?

LIFSHER: It’s conceivable that some people living near the boarders with our neighbors will go and buy TV’s that might not be compliant with California, and there could be some loss of sales tax, but it’s unlikely that people are going to travel far. Nevada is pretty far away from the population centers of California.

CURWOOD: Now, what will this do to the price of televisions?

LIFSHER: The LCD – the Liquid Crystal Display Television Manufacturers Association – has said in a letter to the commission that they don’t expect it to affect price at all. And, indeed, prices have been coming down over the years, and that may continue.

CURWOOD: California is what – the eighth or so – largest economy in the world, and when you’re that big you can kind of throw your weight around in the regulatory arena. What do these new standards effectively mean for the rest of us who don’t live in California?

LIFSHER: California has a long history of imposing efficiency standards on appliances, whether they’re air conditioners or refrigerators, insulation for your house, they’re soon to do it on cars. And those have quickly spread to other states who virtually picked up the California laws and passed them almost word for word. Manufacturers are not going to want to make different kinds of TV’s for different parts of the US market. Eventually, they’ll all be the same, and they’ll all meet California and other states’ – presumably – standards.

CURWOOD: So this is yet another example of California being upfront when it comes to energy efficiency?

LIFSHER: Uh, yes, and California has a good record. Over the last 30 years, per capita electricity usage has been flat here because of these efficiency standards, while it’s gone up 40 to 50 percent in the rest of the country. So, California, obviously, is getting a lot out of every electron.

CURWOOD: In other words, a megawatt saved is a megawatt earned?

LIFSHER: A megawatt saved is a megawatt you don’t have to create greenhouse gas and pollution to produce and spend a lot of money producing.

CURWOOD: Marc Lifsher writes for the Los Angeles Times. Thank you so much, sir.

LIFSHER: You’re welcome.



California Energy Commission


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