A panel of federal judges heard arguments today in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy to adopt stronger energy efficiency standards for electricity distribution transformers, the gray boxes mounted on utility poles all over the country.
Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed the lawsuit in December 2007, arguing that the standards DOE adopted in October 2007 were 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 filed a similar lawsuit.
President Obama has pledged to prioritize energy efficiency, and environmental advocates are willing and able to help undo past actions of the former administration. In a meeting at DOE in early February, President Obama ordered the department to accelerate the process of setting energy efficiency standards for common household appliances, with the goal of reducing household utility bills and fossil fuel emissions.
"This case provides a clear example of how crucial it is that our nation adopt the strongest possible energy efficiency standards," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo, who argued the case in court today. "Distribution transformers contribute millions of tons of global warming pollution. The DOE can make good on their charge while achieving tremendous energy and cost savings."
Adopting 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 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. We can't afford to miss any opportunities to reduce heat-trapping emissions, much less an opportunity this big."
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, greater efficiency offers substantial energy savings. 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.
Utility companies, the primary purchasers of these transformers, have also called for more efficient standards, citing the more than $9 billion the industry could save. But, under the previous administration, DOE disregarded stronger standards supported by both utility and environmental groups when it adopted its regulations.
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.