President Obama today announced that he is pressuring the Department of Energy (DoE) to speed up some long-delayed efficiency standards for appliances. His move is being applauded by environmentalists—no surprise there. And DoE itself will almost certainly proclaim that the new standards will give us better appliances in the future; they might cost more, but they'll supposedly save us money in the long run.
Don't believe it. Here are some examples of how DoE efficiency mandates have produced, or will produce, fiascoes rather than progress:
- In 2007, higher efficiency standards for top-loading washing machines ruined the cleaning ability of many models, according to Consumer Reports ("Washers That Don't Wash", June 2007). This inspired us to launch a "send your underwear to the Undersecretary" video protest, but to no avail. Maybe we should re-launch it.
- In 2001, Consumer Reports found that high-efficiency dishwashers equipped with dirt-sensors were actually the least efficient of all dishwasher models. This means that consumers who purchased them, perhaps in reliance on the government's Energy Star program, were actually hurt twice-first when they bought the high-priced models, and then each time they ran them.
(By the way, don't think that Consumer Reports opposes these mandates; it favors them! But that's a topic for another day.)
- Current DoE standards for light bulbs will soon result in a ban on incandescent bulbs, even though many people prefer incandescent bulbs and even though a "Great Lightbulb Exchange" in one town showed no reduction in electricity use when people switched to fluorescents. (Evidently, folks kept their lights on longer.)
Remember—if higher-efficiency appliances are really better, then we don't need laws to force them on us. And if there are such laws, then those appliances are probably lousy.
Perhaps some consumers realize this and will quickly purchase current appliance models before they're replaced by the "new, improved" versions. Could this be a White House economic stimulus plan in disguise?