December 16, 2004
The modern home is full of electric appliances like TVs, CD players, VCRs, phone chargers and lots of other things you just plug into the wall and forget about. But California energy regulators call those common products "energy vampires," because even when they're turned off they're sucking up valuable power.

In a move that it hopes will set new standards nationwide, the California Energy Commission has adopted new standards for electric appliances' power usage. The new standards will be phased in starting in 2006.

Presently, televisions and other electronic components can use two to 10 watts of electricity, even when they're turned off. California will be require them to use one to three watts.

"The result of today's 5-0 vote will be to slow electricity demand in the state and save approximately 100 megawatts of generating capacity every year," said Energy Commissioner Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, presiding member of the Commission's Efficiency Committee. "The energy savings are cumulative, so that in 10 years, because of today's new appliance regulations, we can avoid building three large power plants that would have to generate as much as 1, 000 megawatts."

The new energy standards regulate appliances such as incandescent lamps; audio and video equipment; residential pool pumps and portable electric spas; evaporative coolers; ceiling fans, exhaust fans and whole house fans; commercial ice makers, refrigerators and freezers; vending machines; commercial hot food holding cabinets and water dispensers, among others.

The new regulations also cover external power supplies, the small transformers that are used to power answering machines, cell and cordless phones, and a host of other small consumer products and small appliances. These devices draw electricity whenever they are plugged in to an electrical socket, even if the product they are powering is not in use.

"Power supplies can waste surprisingly large amounts of electricity around the house," said Energy Commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld. "Informally known as 'energy vampires,' their efficiency varies greatly. Some models draw only one-fifth of a watt to do the same job other models use three watts to do. These new regulations will prevent that sort of needless waste."

The Energy Commission estimates that the average California household has between 10 and 20 external power supplies that cost the homeowner as much as $75 in wasted electricity each year.

Several consumer and environmental organizations spoke in support of the new regulations. Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist for the National Resources Defense Council, noted that "these standards will cut consumer and business electricity bills and reduce the amount of pollution emitted from our power plants. Once fully implemented, the standards will reduce power plant emissions of the global warming pollutant carbon dioxide by two million metric tons per year. This is the equivalent of removing 320,000 cars from California roads each year."

Citing utility industry support for the appliance regulations, Roland Risser, Director of Customer Energy Efficiency for Pacific Gas & Electric, said, "These standards will continue to help improve the environment and grid stability, as they reduce customer costs in the future. PG&E; believes strongly in these standards and is committed to assisting in increasing them."

States are allowed to regulate appliances not covered by national standards. The federal government has already adopted energy efficiency standards for residential refrigerators, clothes washers, dishwashers and other appliances once covered by state regulation. None of the appliances in today's ruling are federally regulated.