June 3, 2015

Consumers_Union_NonProfit

Committee on Energy and Commerce

2125 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Re: June 3-4 Hearing on Title IV Energy Efficiency Legislation

Dear Chairman Upton, Ranking Member Pallone, and Members of the Committee:

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, urges the Energy and Commerce Committee to move forward to improve compliance with building energy codes, which help consumers save energy and money, and to put aside provisions in the Energy Efficiency title that would undermine consumer savings.

Consumers Union Supports Enhancing Support For and Improving Compliance with Building Energy Codes, but Recommends Raising the 10-year Payback Cap in Sec. 4131

Consumers deserve to have efficient products and homes that don’t hurt their financial health through higher energy bills.  Strong energy code compliance slashes electric bills and also improves the comfort level of the home. Strong energy codes help not only people moving into new homes but future buyers and the community as a whole.

Weatherization and residential energy efficiency measures can be very cost-effective and help save consumers money on their energy bills, but strong energy codes that make sure new housing stock will not need weatherization investments later down the road are an even easier and cheaper way to save energy.

However, restricting the Department of Energy from recommending or providing technical assistance for code provisions with a payback of greater than ten years could miss significant savings that could be reasonable for the life expectancy and consumer expectations of a home.  Homebuyers hold onto their homes an average of 13 years, and most homes will remain part of the built environment for decades.  Even homebuyers who sell their homes more quickly can recoup or pass on the added value of an energy efficient home.

Consumers Union Opposes Limiting Accountability in Sec. 4121

Sec. 4121 limits accountability for appliance manufacturers to accurately label the efficiency of their products and could be costly for consumers and undermine the integrity of the Energy Star program.  Consumers rely on the Energy Star label to save energy and money, and manufacturers benefit from the voluntary program through product differentiation and price premiums.  Because the Energy Star program is widely marketed to consumers who are interested in lowering their energy use and energy bills and often pay more for an appliance to pursue those goals, it is important that manufacturers and sellers who profit from marketing appliances certified under the program be directly accountable to consumers for statements made in that certification and marketing.  Private claims for breach of warranty are a time-tested and well-established means of giving consumers that accountability.  The prospect of government corrective action, even under the best of circumstances, is simply not an adequate substitute for empowering consumers to protect themselves and seek redress.  Without this important check on manufacturers’ use or misuse of the Energy Star label, consumer confidence in the label and the effectiveness of the program are likely to diminish.

Consumers Union Recommends Changes to the Voluntary Verification Program

Sec. 4123 directs DOE to recognize voluntary verification programs that meet certain criteria for purposes of verifying compliance for energy conservation standards and EnergyStar specifications.  It is Consumers Union’s view that compliance under these programs has improved from strong DOE and EPA oversight and third-party certification for EnergyStar.  A strong voluntary verification program could reasonably assist in maintaining compliance, but there are three changes to the current provision that would improve the effectiveness and reliability of such programs.

The first is to require voluntary verification programs to be independent from the manufacturer and the test lab that performed the certification being verified.  The second is to require test samples be acquired independently (i.e. not provided or chosen by the manufacturer).  The third is to explicitly allow DOE to disqualify and cease to recognize a program the Secretary of Energy finds does not meet its obligations for compliance under the program.  These changes would improve the integrity of a voluntary verification program and help ensure consumers are receiving the benefit of products that comply with efficiency standards and specifications.

In conclusion, Consumers Union urges the Committee to help improve Americans’ economic and environmental health by building upon the proven benefits of increasing our nation’s energy efficiency.  Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Shannon Baker-Branstetter

Policy Counsel, Consumers Union