WEB EXCLUSIVE: Energy Star Lighting Partner Meeting remembers the Alamo

Last week’s meeting in San Antonio, Texas involved some lively debate with the Energy Star Wars situation remaining unresolved, reports BRIAN OWEN.

Mar 28th, 2009
Recent announcements concerning the US Energy Star program provided the spark for some explosive discussions at last week’s Energy Star Lighting Partner Meeting (ES LPM), held in San Antonio, Texas (March 17-19). Unfortunately, the solid-state lighting situation remains unresolved, and confusion remains the order of the day.

Prior to the meeting, LEDs Magazine reported three significant happenings:

  • EPA announced version 4.3 draft of its Energy Star for Residential Lighting Fixtures (RLF) requirements, that include solid-state lighting (see News - March 6).
  • The annual Appropriations bill, which determines US Congress spending, included a statement that DOE should implement an Energy Star Program for solid-state lighting. Jim Brodrick, who runs DOE’s Solid State Lighting program, circulated an email stating that this language clearly demonstrated that DOE should be running all SSL-related Energy Star activities.
  • A joint statement from DOE and EPA, sent out 2 days before the Partners Meeting, said that the two agencies “will resolve outstanding issues regarding interagency coordination and division of responsibilities” relating to Energy Star and solid-state lighting “within 45 calendar days” (see News - March 18).
The “45 day statement” generated most of the discussion at the Partners Meeting. Many were left wondering where this originated, since the statement itself did not have a signatory or any contact information. In speaking with DOE representatives, the statement was not previously discussed at the Program level.

In his opening address to the ES LPM, Richard Karney, who runs the DOE’s Energy Star for SSL program, was, surprisingly, directed to read the aforementioned statement. He concluded his plenary talk by advising attendees to “Remember the Alamo!”

Karney explained later that reading the statement was intended to hopefully avoid the multitude of questions that may arise throughout the upcoming two days. Albeit a good idea, the innuendo, murmurs and overtones were ever-present.

Karney highlighted some very interesting statistics relating to the progress of the DOE’s Energy Star for SSL program:

  • Manufacturer partners: 75
  • Qualified products: 20
  • Scheduled EEPS (Energy Efficiency Program Sponsors) promotions: 6 running, 5 planned
  • Web visits Feb 09: more than 14,000

In an interview with Alex Baker, the EPA’s Lighting Program Manager for Energy Star, I asked who exactly approved and issued the “45 day” statement. Baker’s response was: “It is above my pay grade,” and he added that the statement was released “in the interest of expedience and transparency” and queried why the DOE didn’t send out the statement as well.

Baker also asked, “Isn’t this a positive thing?” In all fairness, a resolution would be well received by the industry. There may be a rationale to consider separately the needs of the consumer residential market, as EPA is attempting to do. However, the problem remains that there are two Energy Star streams, potentially creating confusion in the marketplace.

In asking Baker about similar statistics for the EPA Energy Star RLF program, he responded that there are no approved products to date, and suggested this supports the EPA view that its criteria are stringent and valid.

Playing politics

The emailed “45 day” statement was evidently prepared at a senior bureaucratic level in an effort to appease the Senate Committee currently investigating the interaction of the two agencies (DOE and EPA) and the Energy Star program as a whole.

Details of the Senate hearing were described in a New York Times article on March 20 – see our related News story. Senators are proposing to include, within a forthcoming energy bill, legislation that will resolve problems within the Energy Star program.

However, EPA and DOE believe that they can resolve the problems without the need for legislation. The agencies said they will resolve the problems within 45 days.

The Senate committee appears to have little faith in an amicable “handshake and a hug” resolution, and seems to want to put legislation in place that will clearly define the roles and responsibilities, including the management role of the DOE in the Energy Star Program for SSL.

Meanwhile, senior bureaucrats at both DOE and EPA seem to feel that the Senate Committee is “interfering in their affairs.” It seems that the upper management of both agencies do not want Senate oversight and are trying their best to remove any language in legislation supporting DOE management of the program, leaving the issue to a “handshake and a hug”. This hug could squeeze the life out of Energy Star for SSL.

Without legislative language, it is very difficult to see how the differences between DOE and EPA in relation to solid-state lighting can be resolved, and certainly not within 45 days.

The fallout

It was so very important to reassure the audience at the LPM as to the cohesive implementation of a solid-state Energy Star program with respect to their conservation and energy efficiency program efforts and the millions of dollars potentially at stake for incentive and rebate programs.

Utilities and Energy Efficiency Program Sponsors (EEPS) not only require high-quality, market-available products to which they can apply incentives, but must be assured that the standards exist that only allow such product to pass through the gate in order to receive incentives, in this case relying on Energy Star.

Confusion amongst the utilities and EEPS can possibly cause them to shy away for the time being until a resolution is reached, thus stalling program implementation and resultant market transformation. Are we not relying on lessons learned from the history of the CFL coming to market? Jim Brodrick understands this, the importance of this audience and the potential that could be affected. Leading the DOE SSL program, Brodrick has heard from these stakeholders and their message is clear regarding support for the DOE Energy Star position.

Kyle Pitsor of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) was deposed by Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 19, 2009. Details and the text of Pitsor’s testimony can be found on the NEMA website.

Pitsor said, “Given the significant investments that companies are making in SSL technologies, we cannot afford market confusion and competing government programs. Accordingly, NEMA and American Lighting Association (ALA) recommend that Energy Star programs involving solid state lighting be under the jurisdiction of one agency, the Department of Energy.”

Interestingly - and ironically - Alex Baker of the EPA continues to use the needs and requirements of ALA members as justification and support to rationalize the EPA's SSL version in the Energy Star for RLF 4.2 v3.

Readers are encouraged to share their views on this matter with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and in particular to share their thoughts on which of the two agencies is best suited to implement an ENERGY STAR program for solid state lighting. Committee staff can be contacted via telephone at (202) 224-4971, or via an email message that can be submitted via the following website: http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home.

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