The Energy Department got an earful from critics Friday on its plan to raise the fuel efficiency of household gas furnaces, which industry groups say will raise costs and unnecessarily burden consumers.
The department's proposed rule "makes no sense for anyone," said Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute President and CEO Stephen Yurek ahead of Friday's meeting at Energy Department headquarters in Washington.
"America's furnace manufacturers intend to fight — and fight hard — to protect our customers from this economically...devastating rule," Yurek said. Industry officials say the rule will increase costs for consumers by $6-12 billion, with most of of that burden falling "unevenly" on low and fixed-income residents.
In addition, there are rumblings in Congress that the Energy Department's efficiency and conservation program is going too far, say aides. The concern is the stringent new rules are being driven by the White House's climate change goals that target reductions in fossil fuel use. There is likely to be more oversight as the issues raised over the rules grow louder, the aides say.
The department published the proposed rule in the Federal Register earlier this month as a revision of a previous rule that had faced opposition for applying a patchwork of different efficiency standards across the country, instead of having just one. The department wants all non-weatherized natural gas furnaces to meet a minimum 92 percent efficiency rating for annual fuel use. That means new gas furnaces would need to lower fuel use by 92 percent to be sold. Yurek's members believe that is too much for manufacturers, and the fact that it is nationwide makes it cost-prohibitive, driving up costs for consumers everywhere and eliminating any of the benefits of increased conservation.
The department published the proposed rule in the Federal Register earlier this month as a revision of a previous rule that had faced opposition for applying a patchwork of different efficiency standards across the country, instead of having just one.
The original plan had different fuel-use efficiency for each region of the country, but none as high as 92 percent. The previous rule had set ranges between 80 and 90 percent, and industry groups had anticipated the agency establishing something similar to those rates.
Yurek's group and others expected the new proposal to resolve their concerns, but instead it raises new ones.
The department's proposal scheduled a public meeting on Friday to vet concerns as part of the comment period to weigh the plan's pros and cons.
"We will work diligently with our members and with like-minded industry associations to advocate for standards that are not only technically feasible but economically justified for consumers and manufacturers."
The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas utilities, also is opposing the standard because it would effectively ban the use of "non-condensing natural gas furnaces" that have an 80 percent rating, which are widely available.
The association argues that the gas furnaces "could no longer be installed," forcing homeowners looking to update their heating equipment to purchase more expensive units, making it nearly impossible for lower-income families to buy new heating units, driving them toward lower-cost, less efficient alternatives.