LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California regulators gave final approval on Wednesday to the first mandatory U.S. energy curbs on television sets, a growing but often overlooked power drain that accounts for 10 percent of home electric bills in the state.
Supporters say the measure will save California consumers at least $8 billion over 10 years in electricity costs and enough energy to power 864,000 homes. California, which often leads the way in U.S. environmental initiatives, already boasts the lowest per-capita rate of electricity use in the United States.
When fully implemented, California’s standards will be the most stringent for new TVs in the world, said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that backs the regulations.
The rules require all new TVs sold in California to consume 33 percent less energy than current sets starting with the 2011 model year, and 50 percent less starting with 2013 models.
This is expected to set a new industry standard for TV manufacturers everywhere by virtue of California’s sheer size as a consumer market.
A national industry trade group says the rules could force some TV sets off the market in California.
The regulatory move was sparked in part by the surge in popularity of larger flat-screen televisions that gobble up on average at least 40 percent more electricity than the old-style cathode ray tube sets.
“This is a consumer-protection measure, this is a measure that will protect the environment ... and the benefits to Californians will begin to be felt almost immediately,” agency chair Karen Douglas said moments before the five-member California Energy Commission adopted the rules in Sacramento by a unanimous voice vote.
The regulations were opposed by some in the consumer electronics industry as unnecessary, costly for TV makers and consumers and at odds with a voluntary nationwide labeling program, Energy Star, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Virginia-based Consumer Electronics Association has said a fourth of all TV sets for sale today would fall short of the standards and would have to be pulled from the market.
A coalition of small businesses, Californians for Smart Energy, said the rules “will destroy thousands of jobs.”
Under pressure from some retailers, the commission scaled back its original proposal and exempted the very biggest TV screens, those larger than 58 inches in diagonal. But those mega-sized screens account for no more than 2 percent of all televisions sold, the commission says.
The rule also was adopted against the backdrop of a larger state effort to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollutants by 28 percent by 2020. Public utilities, which backed the measure, estimate it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3 million metric tons over a decade.
Nearly three years in the making, the measure is the latest in a long line of energy efficiency regulations pioneered by California for a wide range of appliances and gadgets -- from refrigerators to cell-phone chargers.
Per-capita electricity consumption in California, whose population has roughly doubled since 1970 to about 39 million, has remained flat for nearly three decades, while power demand for the country as a whole has grown by about 40 percent.
The higher TV efficiency level slated for 2013 is far more stringent than standards approved last year by the European Union, “and will transform the market around the world,” Horowitz said.
Cathode ray TV screens still make up the bulk of the estimated 35 million sets in California homes today. But they are rapidly being replaced by flat-panel models, mostly liquid crystal display, or LCD. They account for nearly 90 percent of the 4 million new TVs now sold each year.
Supporters say the most energy-consuming models will be replaced by more efficient sets before the new rules take effect, leaving consumers plenty of choice. They also say lower electric bills will more than offset any price increases.
The commission said more than 1,000 TV models now on the market already meet the 2011 standards.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham