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Reality show: Calif. to require greener TVs

Most power-hungry TVs will be banned from store shelves in California after state regulators adopted a first-in-the nation mandate to lower electricity demand.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Most power-hungry TVs will be banned from store shelves in California after state regulators adopted a first-in-the nation mandate to lower electricity demand. Given how large the California market is, the regulation could end up as a de facto national standard.

On a unanimous vote, the California Energy Commission on Wednesday required all new televisions up to 58 inches to be more energy efficient beginning in 2011. The requirement will be tougher in 2013, and only a quarter of all TVs on the market currently meet that standard.

The California Energy Commission estimates that TVs account for about 10 percent of a home's electricity use. The concern is that the energy draw will rise by as much as 8 percent a year as consumers buy larger televisions, add more to their homes and watch them more often.

Commissioners say energy efficiency standards are the cheapest and easiest way to save electricity.

"We have every confidence this industry will be able to meet the rule and then some," Energy Commissioner Julia Levin said. "It will save consumers money, it will help protect public health, and it will spark innovation."

Utilities and environmental groups say the TV standards, which mirror the federal standards for TVs awarded the Energy Star label, should head off steep increases in home electricity use and rising electric bills.

"This is a really big deal, because once standards are in effect it will cut California's power bill by $1 billion a year and avoid the need to build a large, 500 megawatt power plant," said Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We hope in the long term, every TV sold in America will be just as efficient as those sold in California."

Televisions account for about 2 percent of California's overall electricity use. Requiring them to be more energy efficient would save enough electricity to power 864,000 single-family homes a year in California by 2023. That's enough for Anaheim, Burbank, Glendale and Palo Alto combined.

An energy-efficient TV would save a household roughly $30 a year per set in lowered electricity costs. If all 35 million TVs watched in the state were replaced with more efficient sets, Californians would save $8.1 billion over 10 years, according to the Energy Commission report.

The electricity savings could also help California meet the goals of its 2006 global warming law, which calls for the state to cut greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020.

State retailers feel threatened
Some manufacturers say implementing a power standard will cripple innovation, limit consumer choice and harm California retailers because consumers could simply buy TVs out of state or order them online.

The standards would apply to all TVs up to 58 inches, allowing increasing power use for larger TVs.

For example, all new 42-inch television sets must use less than 183 watts by 2011 and less than 116 watts by 2013. That's considerably more efficient than flat-screen TVs placed on the market in recent years.

A 42-inch Hitachi plasma TV sold in 2007 uses 313 watts while a 42-inch Sharp Liquid-crystal display, or LCD, TV draws 232 watts, according to Energy Commission research.

LCDs now account for about 90 percent of the 4 million TVs sold in California annually.

Some televisions already meet the early standards imposed under the rule approved Wednesday. About three-quarters of the TVs — more than 1,050 models — sold today comply with the 2011 California standards, and more than 300 comply with the 2013 standard, according to the Energy Commission.

Industry representatives have said the standards would force manufacturers to make televisions that have poorer picture quality and fewer features than those sold elsewhere in the U.S.

TVs larger than 58 inches would not be covered under the rule, a concession to independent retailers that sell high-end home-theater TVs. Those sets account for no more than 3 percent of the market.

Commissioners are expected to regulate them in the future.

California has previously led the nation in setting efficiency requirements for dishwashers, washing machines and other household appliances as a way to address the state's growing electricity demand.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the commission’s action as another signal of California’s leadership on environmental matters. He noted that the state’s per-capita electricity consumption has remained flat over the last three decades while energy consumption nationwide has increased.

“I applaud the commission for its hard work to enact these and other cost-effective energy efficiency standards that are not only great for the environment, but also good for consumers,” the governor said in a statement.