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Business Costs & Regulation

Energy Star Label Claims Under Fire

A government crackdown on labels touting energy efficiency—and a new rating category—will make it easier to evaluate energy savings.

Unhappy with what many manufacturers are touting as energy efficient products, the government will tighten up standards for a variety of consumer and industrial items that display the Energy Star label.

Starting next year, expect regulators to use new testing procedures to ensure that manufacturers’ claims for appliances, furnaces, boilers, lighting and a raft of other items meet energy efficiency claims in everyday usage and not just under laboratory conditions. Too often, that’s not the case.

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Moreover, the government will create a new, “Super Star” label for just the top 5% of items that meet strict energy efficiency requirements. The higher rating will make it easier for consumers and business customers to figure out which products yield the most energy savings. It’s also likely to spur manufacturers of appliances and other goods to develop lines of extra-energy-efficient products.

Look for utilities to offer consumers vouchers and other incentives to people to encourage them to buy top rated products. Wider use of more-efficient products will help utilities tamp down peak electricity usage as well as meet federal restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions that are likely to be phased in within a few years. Slowing the growth of electricity usage also will help them delay or avoid the need to build expensive new generating plants and pass the costs on to consumers.

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The government’s Energy Star program will also get some competition by spring: The nonprofit TopTen USA group plans to do its own ratings and post its rankings -- based on a product’s electricity or fuel consumption in “real world use” conditions--on its Web site.

To maintain any appearance of a conflict of interest, Norman Dean, TopTen USA’s executive director, says no manufacturers’ data will be used to compile its ratings.

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