The Department of Energy on Thursday levied the biggest penalty in the 37-year history of the appliance energy efficiency standards program. It fined China-based Midea Corp. $4.5 million because of hundreds of thousands of inefficient compact freezers the company made.
Most of the violations are for products sold under Sears’ Kenmore brand, including chest freezers with model numbers 19502 and 19702. Testing by the Department revealed that those two models use 28 and 55 percent more energy, respectively, than the federal standards for their designs. Compliant compact refrigerators and freezers already use more energy per cubic foot than their full-grown relatives, and their lifetime energy costs often exceed the purchase price of the product.
In this case, consumers could buy a Midea-made freezer for less than $160, and wind up paying around a third of that each year just to leave it plugged in.
The appliance standards program is at the heart of DOE’s mission. Refrigerator and freezer standards have secured significant energy (and cost) savings even as products have gotten bigger, better and cheaper. The $4.5 million fine is sure to get the attention of other companies who do not take the standards program seriously. But, although the fine is great news, until DOE completes work on a verification testing regime that ensures all product designs are tested at regular intervals, we can only hope that other products aren’t also flouting U.S. energy efficiency laws.