Appliance Standards: The Best Climate Change Policy You’ve Never Heard Of!

By Massachusetts Rep. Josh Cutler and Charles Harak, National Consumer Law Center

56 games. 8 consecutive NBA titles. 297 straight NFL starts. The sports world is full of well-known streaks. A less famous streak is held by our own commonwealth of Massachusetts which, for the past nine years in a row, has earned the title as the most energy efficient state in the nation.

It’s no small policy feat. Taking the top slot in the efficiency scorecard means muscling out that energy elephant in the room, California, scrappy up-and-comers like Rhode Island and Vermont, and of course our arch-rival New York. Energy efficiency may not be as exciting as a Patriots winning streak, but it come with plenty of perks. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, which hands out the annual state rankings, efficiency programs now save the nation more energy each year than any other single energy resource.

Reducing energy consumption is a clear win for our environment –– and our pocketbooks. After all, the cheapest and greenest kind of energy is the energy you didn’t use in the first place. Smart energy efficiency policies can also help create jobs, improve grid reliability and improve public health. 

Here in Massachusetts we can rightfully be proud of our leadership in this area. Our top ranking did not happen by accident. It is the result of a concerted and cooperative effort by the legislature, administration and advocates to support investments in energy efficiency programs and pass innovative energy policy.

Of course when you are on top –– and especially nine years in a row –– there’s always a challenger nipping at your heels, looking to knock you off your perch. States like California have made significant strides in energy efficiency policy and competition will be fierce if Massachusetts is to extend its dominance a full decade, or longer. It is true that every good streak must eventually come to an end, but to this we say – not on our watch!

The good news is that there is a “shovel-ready” solution ready to help ensure we can extend our streak and continue to build a resilient energy future: the Massachusetts Energy Savings and Efficiency (SAVE) Act. The goal of the Energy SAVE Act is to focus on the hidden gem of energy efficiency – appliance standards. That’s because one of the easiest ways to reduce energy usage is to use more energy efficient products in our homes and businesses.

Appliance efficiency standards ensure that the products we purchase use less energy and water while preserving quality and affordability. Many consumers are already familiar with programs like EnergyStar or WaterSense that promote efficiency performance and savings. The Energy SAVE Act effectively extends this same logic to a broader array of products including water faucets, showerheads, computers, electric vehicle chargers, monitors and water coolers.

The non-profit Appliance Standards Awareness Project estimates that by 2025 Massachusetts consumers and businesses could save $103 million per year if these new standards were in place, while at the same time reducing our carbon emissions by 113,000 metric tons. This also helps the state meet our targets under the Global Warming Solutions Act.

The legislation does not require consumers or businesses to buy new products or replace what they may already own. It simply raises existing standards to weed out the least efficient products and promote innovation in the marketplace. The result is more energy efficient choices. That translates to reduced demand for fossil fuels and water savings. And since energy costs have a disproportionate impact on lower income consumers, efficiency standards can also have an even greater impact for those who most need assistance. 

 While the Federal government certainly has a role to play in setting national energy policy, the states have historically led the nation in the development of new appliance standards. Over time consensus efficiency standards develop into national standards. Massachusetts has been a leader in the past and now it’s time to update our standards to keep pace with changes in the marketplace.

By now everyone knows that adding insulation to your home or swapping in LED bulbs is a smart way to lower energy costs. Updating our appliance standards is the same kind of common-sense approach for energy savings. We like to think it’s the best climate change policy you’ve never heard of!

Charlie Harak is a senior energy attorney for the National Consumer Law Center. Josh S. Cutler is state representative for the Sixth Plymouth District.