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Feds Testing Appliances For Energy Star Compliance

– The federal government has begun testing Energy Star-rated major appliances
for compliance with the program’s efficiency standards, and is developing a new
certification procedure that will ultimately apply to all products.

The new measures, along with stricter enforcement, were designed to tighten up a qualification process that largely relies on vendor self-assessment and peer review.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) began compliance tests last
week on Energy Star-rated refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers,
dishwashers, water heaters and room air conditioners, which account for more
than 25 percent of household energy bills. DOE will test approximately 200
basic models at third-party, independent test laboratories over the next few
months, the agency said.

The DOE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which jointly
administer the Energy Star program, are also developing an expanded compliance system
that will require all products seeking the Energy Star label to be tested in
approved labs. The new qualification procedures will also require manufacturers
to participate in an ongoing verification testing program that will ensure
continued compliance.

 The changes follow a
two-year-old report by the consumer advocacy publication Consumer Reports,
which found that energy consumption in real-life situations differs from the
test standards set by DOE.  The magazine
also revealed that appliance manufacturers conduct their own Energy Star-certification
tests with little oversight from DOE, which relied on vendors to monitor competitors’
products due to budgetary constraints.

The report prompted a DOE examination of Energy Star claims by LG
Electronics, which resulted in modifications to 22 non-compliant French door
refrigerator models and compensation to consumers.

The DOE acknowledged the lack of majap oversight in an internal
audit that was submitted to Energy Secretary Steven Chu last fall, The New York
Times reported, although the EPA said 98 percent of the more than 40,000 Energy
Star-rated products on the market are in compliance with the program’s

Energy Star labeling was developed to help consumers identify the
most energy-efficient products, and has become the basis for a $300 million
federal rebate program covering most major appliances.

“Consumers have long trusted the Energy Star brand for products
that will save them energy and save them money,” said Cathy Zoi, DOE’s assistant
secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “The steps we’re taking
now will further strengthen and improve the program, building on the results
that consumers have come to expect.”

EPA and DOE have also stepped up enforcement of Energy Star and
federal appliance efficiency standards, and have taken action against 35
manufacturers in the past four months, including LG and Haier. The agencies took
steps in December to remove the Energy Star label from 20 LG refrigerators, and
in January signed a consent decree with Haier on four freezers that failed to
meet Energy Star and appliance-efficiency standards. Haier was fined $150,000
and required to notify consumers and repair any defective units.

The minimum appliance-efficiency standards set baseline
efficiency levels for appliances. DOE said the long-delayed standards, which
were issued last year after President Obama ordered the agency to clear the
logjam, are expected to save consumers between $250 billion and $300 billion
over the next 30 years.

Industry reaction to the new measures was positive. “We will
fully support the DOE and EPA’s efforts to make the Energy Star testing and
certification process as efficient and transparent as possible,” said John
Farley, senior brand and environmental marketing manager for Bosch home
appliances.  “The end result will be a better -ducated customer who will
be empowered to make purchasing decisions that are both financially and
environmentally responsible.”

Adam Thomas, appliance merchandising senior VP for the Nationwide
Marketing Group, acknowledged, “Manufacturers regulated each other, based on
the DOE standard, and some things were opened to interpretation.”

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), the
industry trade group, plans to launch a voluntary program midyear that will
verify the energy ratings of refrigerators and freezers through independent
third-party labs. According to AHAM president Joe McGuire, “The industry’s
interest is to strengthen confidence among the public and government in refrigerators
and freezer energy claims through random third-party verification tests.”

LG has similarly enlisted UL Environment, a subsidiary of
Underwriters Laboratories, to evaluate its water- and energy-consumption claims
for majap and CE products under the lab’s Environmental Claims Validation