On Nov. 18 the California Energy Commission is scheduled to vote on a proposal that would require retailers by 2011 to limit sales of TV sets to those that consume about a third less power than they do today.
Since the public hearing on Oct. 3, industry groups have turned up the volume in opposition to the new guidelines. If passed, the best value in home theater HDTVs will disappear from California shelves and, some analysts figure, will ultimately cut consumer choices across the country.
The Consumer Electronics Association says the current CEC proposal would ban the sale in California of 100 percent of plasma sets larger than 60 inches and 25 percent of all today’s large screen HDTVs.
For home theater enthusiasts, plasma offers the best value per square inch in screen sizes over 50 inches. A similarly sized, energy efficient LED TV, costs twice as much as a plasma television. Today, a 50-inch Samsung plasma HDTV can be had online for under $1,200, and the largest LED HDTV by Samsung at that same price is only 32 inches.
Meanwhile, plasma manufacturers have reduced energy consumption of their larger models over the past two years, and there is room for further reduction.
Plasma Display Coalition president Jim Palumbo asked the California Energy Commission to update energy-use information on the state website, but he had no success, citing the CEC for “its flagrant misinformation campaign.” Palumbo’s group says the state’s site has not been updated to reflect the fact that many newer TV models burn the equivalent energy of two 75-watt household light.
The CEC says manufacturers will have time to retool their products to meet the guidelines. CEA representatives agree, but warn that retooling will come at a cost, and consumers may have to settle for energy efficient TVs with fewer fancy features like Internet interactivity, if they want to pay the same price.
“Imposing arbitrary limits deprives the consumer of buying the television they want, at a price that’s affordable to each individual,” says Douglas Johnson, senior director of technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association.
As California goes …
CEA fears new restrictions will quickly spill over into other states: as California goes, so goes the nation. Manufacturers will not make TVs that can be sold in one state and not another. Can you imagine The California Energy Diet TV versus The Super Size It Texas TV? Rather than driving Californians out of state and online to buy non-conforming TVs, the net result will be fewer choices for consumers.
“What is needed is congressional legislation on the energy efficiency of CE and other household product,” said Steve Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Twice, the consumer electronics trade publication. “Congressional deliberations will allow the opinions of many [to]be heard and considered, rather than have one state legislature dictate policy on such a vital national issue.”
PG&E, the major California utility, already imposes premiums on electricity use in excess of a household’s established baseline each month: at usage that exceeds the baseline by 31 percent, consumers pay a 43 percent premium, and when they reach double the allotted baseline, the premium nearly doubles to 83 percent. Those same households are rewarded with savings up to 2/3 per kilowatt hour for use during off peak times. Do the laundry during the day and energy use is billed at 30 cents per kilowatt, but hold off until evening and the rate drops to 9 cents. The system is in place to charge individual households for their extra energy consumption and reward those who choose to conserve energy, leaving energy trade-offs – and buying decisions – in the hands of the consumer.
The CEC proposal is not subject to a vote by Californians. The CEC may pass the guidelines by vote of the commission only. The proposal is supported by Governor Schwarzenegger and PG&E.