Environmental groups and the state of California are filing lawsuits urging the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to adopt stronger energy efficiency standards for electricity distribution transformers, the gray boxes mounted on utility poles all over the country.
The public interest law firm Earthjustice is filing the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), arguing that the standards DOE adopted in October are too weak, in part because DOE illegally failed to account for the monetary benefits of reducing carbon dioxide pollution when setting the standards. As a result, these weak standards will lead to excessive energy consumption and unnecessary global warming pollution.
The California Attorney General's office is expected to file a similar lawsuit by today.
"These standards allow a huge waste of energy to continue," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo. "As world leaders struggle to agree on solutions to global warming, we can cut carbon emissions now, simply by following our nation's energy laws and switching to more efficient technology that's already available. Energy efficiency is vital to curbing global warming, which is what we are urging today."
The nation's 40 million distribution transformers are crucial cogs in the energy system, reducing electricity voltage to the levels needed to power homes and businesses. Because of their ubiquity and because all power travels through one or more transformers, the energy savings offered by greater efficiency is enormous. According to DOE estimates, requiring all new transformers to achieve the same efficiency levels as the best units currently on the market would eliminate the need for nearly 20 large new power plants by 2038.
"Massive amounts of power flowing through our national power grid are lost when these inefficient electric transformers leak energy. Like preparing a drafty house for winter, we need to seal these leaks in the system," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign. "Making these simple improvements can make new, expensive coal plants unnecessary."
Adopting the more stringent standards would also avoid the emission of 700 million tons of carbon dioxide -- more than what is emitted annually by all U.S. passenger cars.
"The Bush administration has rejected mandatory limits on global warming pollution in favor of solving the problem through other means, such as energy efficiency standards," said David B. Goldstein, co-director of NRDC's energy program. "And yet DOE's efficiency standards for distribution transformers are incredibly weak, in part because DOE did not take into account the benefits of reducing global warming pollution. DOE is missing a huge opportunity to reduce pollution at a profit. Given what we know about the dangers of global warming, we can't afford to miss any opportunities to reduce heat-trapping emissions, much less an opportunity this big."
Utility companies, the primary purchasers of these transformers, have also called for more efficient standards, citing the more than $11.1 billion the industry could save. But DOE disregarded stronger standards supported by both utility and environmental groups when it adopted its regulations. "DOE has just left money on the table," said Goldstein.
Consumers also stand to benefit from efficiency standards, which reduce costs and improve system reliability. Each year, inefficient, overheated transformers are responsible for countless power outages across the country.