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Lane Burt’s Blog

Energy Star Under Fire: Are the Fixes Coming Fast Enough?

Lane Burt

Posted March 26, 2010

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Energy Star has been a popular target lately, most recently as a result of an undercover Congressional audit reported in the New York Times.  I’ve blogged on Energy Star’s issues several times and generally think that both EPA and DOE are sorting things out and addressing the concerns as fast as they can.  The program has been a victim of its own success, having grown to cover over 60 products with many more industries lobbying for the program to expand to their products. 

That said, this new report is troubling and oddly entertaining.  Entertaining because of some of the crazy products the investigators made up to try to certify (like a gas powered alarm clock or an air purifier that appears to be a space heater with a feather duster literally taped to it) but troubling because these products were actually accepted for initial approval by the program. Crazy!

I think it is clear why the manufacturer self certification system that Energy Star generally employs needs to be revised.  DOE and EPA have both acknowledged as much, as increased verification and compliance testing was part of the suite or improvements they proposed to the program last year.  In fact, the stakeholder calls on verification and testing will be held next week and NRDC will participate.  The agencies have also taken immediate steps in response to the report.

Noah Horowitz and I drafted comments on DOE and EPA’s plan for improving Energy Star, and we stressed that verification be done right.  You can find our full comments here, but the topline recommendations on verification are below.

“1.  Energy Star should develop and implement written testing and enforcement procedures for qualified products.  These documents should include: sample nomination and procurement processes, lab requirements, sample sizes, parameters to test, data distribution, and follow-up to be taken from the data. 

2.  Create a clear delisting protocol to ensure that everyone knows the rules in advance and that all companies are treated fairly.

3.  All test data should be publicly available.  There is nothing confidential about the power use of an Energy Star labeled product.

4.  Energy Star should proactively share the data with other agencies including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the enforcement division within DOE.” 

“5.  Energy Star must independently select and purchase the units for testing.  Manufacturers must not be allowed to submit the units for testing, as these will be pre-selected to qualify and will not be representative of the product the consumer purchases.  Off the shelf is necessary in all cases.

6.   All verification testing shall be done at independently owned laboratories except when uniquely justified.  The PEARL testing experience has shown that in several cases manufacturers used their own “certified” laboratories to do the initial product testing for  initial qualification while the off the shelf product testing done by independent laboratories yielded dramatically different results.  While this will slightly increase the manufacturer’s testing costs, the benefits from independent testing are overwhelming.”

With this latest report, the agencies have every incentive to make sure that the Energy Star brand is rock solid and dependable so that consumers can feel confident in the quality and energy efficiency of every Energy Star labeled product. 

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