After Flunking Energy Audit, DOE Cracks Down on Appliance Makers

doe-logoWhat timing: The Department of Energy is ratcheting up efforts to enforce energy efficiency standards for appliances, and has just issued the first subpoena in its new crackdown — less than 24 hours after the agency’s inspector general reported the DOE has been failing, more often than not, to take its own advice for running its heating and cooling systems efficiently.

According to a release from the DOE this morning, the agency issued a subpoena to appliance manufacturer AeroSys yesterday to obtain “detailed information about how AeroSys certified its compliance with applicable DOE standards and how it marketed its products,” including air conditioners and heat pumps. As the agency’s general counsel, Scott Blake Harris, explains, the DOE has received confidential information as well as data in “informal discussions” with the company, and decided it needs to take a closer look.

“We are not prejudging the merits of this particular case,” Harris says in the release, adding that he hopes the inquiry will show AeroSys is in full compliance. DOE spokesperson Jen Stutsman explained the next steps in an email this morning:

If based on the response to the subpoena and the results of any further testing completed under our regulations, DOE determines that any AeroSys products are not in compliance, we can seek to impose monetary penalties and require AeroSys to stop distributing those products.

With stricter energy efficiency requirements coming soon and others recently approved, it makes sense to actually enforce the ones that are already on the books. And the DOE’s neglect of best practices, while expensive (it wastes some $11.5 million per year by not using basic temperature controls), is hardly on par with a company potentially misleading consumers about the efficiency and performance of its products. But given that the agency has to throw stones if it’s going to “effectively promote the development and distribution of energy efficient products that will save energy and reduce costs for millions of Americans,” as the Obama administration intends — it seems like a less-than-brilliant idea to live in an (inefficient) glass house.

On the bright side, the Washington Post reports that “at least two buildings visited by investigators adjusted their temperature controls after learning about the audit’s findings.” As the government raises the stakes for greener appliance makers — the agency has allotted $300 million in rebates for Energy Star-qualified appliances, and another $72.5 million to expand the Energy Star program — here’s hoping the new crackdown will help spur appliance makers to boost their efficiency.

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