A Free-Market Energy Blog

Energy Efficiency under Biden’s DOE: An Update

By -- March 30, 2022

“I’m proud to report that the American Gas Association (AGA), the American Public Gas Association (APGA), Spire Inc. (who really led the effort), and a gas appliance manufacturer, Thermo Products LLC (a subsidiary of Burnham holdings), rose to the occasion with a filing that put DOE on notice that the gas industry isn’t giving up.”

“Market conservation, in short, is wholly different from command-and-control government conservationism.”

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is further escalating its electrification strategies using regulatory appliance efficiency standards. But the good news is that resistance continues and is even on the upswing with the global failure of ‘Net Zero’ in light of recent developments.

The entire debate is colored by DOE/EERE ignoring the intent of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA) to balance varied consumer interests and energy choices, rather than providing the agency with carte blanche permission to squeeze out every possible BTU without regard to consumer cost, convenience, and fuel preferences.

Market conservation, in short, is wholly different from command-and-control government conservationism.

Background

Last January, I authored the four-part “Energy Efficiency under Biden’s DOE” documenting the energy equivalent of ethnic cleansing  being foisted upon our country by “social democrats,” so-called environmentalists and many (more than willing) “leaders” within the electric utility industry who covet the load and the fuel to serve it.

This is occurring under the guise of “deep decarbonization” by “electrifying everything” through a near total reliance upon “renewable” means of electric power production.  Part IV of that series stated:

On Wednesday, December 29, 2021, EERE officially rescinded its process rule modifications [put in place] under Trump, in the Federal Register.  This starts the clock under the Administrative Procedures Act for appeal. Click here for the Federal Register notice.

Resistance to EERE

I’m proud to report that the American Gas Association (AGA), the American Public Gas Association (APGA), Spire Inc. (who really led the effort) and a gas appliance manufacturer, Thermo Products LLC (a subsidiary of Burnham holdings) rose to the occasion with a filing [1] that put DOE on notice that the gas industry isn’t giving up.   

Last December, when I started writing this series, I wasn’t sure whether they would litigate or capitulate. I think I now have my answer. I also think their willingness to remain engaged is (in at least in part), due to a recent victory of sorts that remanding a DOE “Final rule” regarding commercial boilers that I orchestrated (and summarized in the 4-part series).

Crux of the Issues

Basically, these parties are in standby mode, withholding additional legal challenges until DOE publishes something that tries to ban a non-condensing gas product. Coincidentally or not, this is what I suggested in Part IV.

In its 12/29/20212 filing, DOE tried to gloss over the fact that condensing units require incompatible venting systems with non-condensing units.  According to DOE, the additional cost of such venting systems is merely an occasional and relatively minor retrofit expense.

However, this is an attempt to regulate venting systems and DOE has no authority to do so.  Therefore, DOE’s proposal seeks to regulate even existing buildings and not just the appliances within them.  

Furthermore, the additional costs of condensing venting systems are not only substantial (causing payback periods that are often longer than expected appliance lifetimes); they also can be quite unsightly and intrusive. 

Thus, taking away consumers ability to replace an old non-condensing unit with another new non-condensing unit eliminates an important consumer “feature,” that being ease of installation. Al-in-all, for existing homes HVAC configurations and material, forcing consumers to retrofit-in condensing systems can often be unsuitable for the replacement market.

Also important is the direct communication of APGA and Spire with DOE as evidenced by ex-parte communications. Attached to the mandatory cover letter of the ex-parte conversation is a sufficiently gutsy presentation that shows how the Biden Administration’s electrification agenda is unlawful under the longstanding Energy Policy & Conservation Act of 1975.

Note that this claim of illegality (per EPCA) contained in the  ex-parte filing and presentation) predated DOE’s 12/29/2021 Federal Register filing where DOE took pains to reject the official comments of the Gas End-Use Advocacy Group (GEAG) [2] to justify its planned elimination of non-condensing gas product.  For example, DOE defends its overreach as follows:

Preserving inefficient technologies would be inimical to the statute’s [EPCA] energy-saving purposes. Accordingly, EPCA’s ‘‘features’’ provision is targeted to ensure preservation of only certain performance characteristics (including reliability), features, sizes, capacities, and volumes. 42 U.S.C. 6295(o)(4). However, as discussed in section II.C of this document, an overly broad reading of the ‘‘features’’ provision to include features that do not impact the utility of the covered product would preserve inefficient technologies at the expense of EPCA’s energy conservation goals and frustrate the purpose of EPCA.[3]  

DOE’s stated belief is tantamountg to a belief that not eliminating non-condensing gas appliances would violate EPCA. GEAG believes that the best alternatives are those freely chosen by knowledgeable consumers acting according to their own self-interests. In short, whether a ‘feature’ is a feature and worthy of protection from overly zealous regulatory overreach is best answered by the consumer and that such choices are worthy of Congressional protection.

Bungling Biden and Natural Gas

Once non-condensing gas products are eliminated, EERE can move on to eliminating condensing gas products (since such appliances still use natural gas), aided and abetted by the ostensible carbon emissions reductions as set forth by its biased values of Social Costs of Carbon (SCC) given their (at least equally biased) assumptions of “net zero” electric utility emissions from the rapid rise and dominance of renewables. [4]

Despite the recent filing indicating that at least some entities are not readily giving up on natural gas, such interests are merely a start that will not sufficiently deter the Biden Administration’s escalating war against fossil fuels. In fact, the Biden Administration, apparently following the EU’s lead, plans on doubling down on its “electrify everything” with renewables machinations.

Afterall, they postulate, if the “free world” were to replace fossil fuels with renewables, we could no longer be held hostage to “bad actors” like Putin.  Meanwhile, China, with its dominance of rare earth metals, is laughing all the way to the bank. In case anyone thinks I’m being overly melodramatic, I refer you to the March 15, 2022 “Readout of the March National Climate Task Force Meeting.” Here’s an excerpt:

The Task Force echoed the President’s belief that this moment underscores the need to accelerate – not slow down – our transition to a clean energy future that will strengthen U.S. energy independence. They noted when electric cars are powered by clean energy, homes run on clean electricity, and our grid is more resilient and reliable, autocrats like Putin won’t be able to weaponize fossil fuels against other nations. Officials discussed building a clean energy future by furthering the Task Force’s work every day and advancing the President’s legislative agenda that provides tax credits to save families money, lower energy bills, boost U.S. manufacturing jobs, and promote competition.

The above paragraph represents a target-rich environment for free-market rebuttals.  Personally, however, I find the term “promote competition” to be the most egregious. In a free market economy, how can the forced redistribution of fossil fuel consumption to electricity (renewable or otherwise) be promoting competition?

Don’t Mess with Physics

Ultimately, electrification will fail because the weather extremes (including limited wind and/or sunlight) and raw-materials constraints oppose it. Unreliable/intermittent renewable energy do not scale up to meet peak energy demands caused by extreme weather (e.g., “polar vortex” events) and leveraging renewable capacity batteries cannot make it so; at least not economically.  And, in stark contrast to claims that renewable energy costs and batteries are plummeting is illusory.

It is much more likely that costs will escalate as these policies trade old forms of cartels for new ones. The main question is how much pain and suffering must we endure before reality reemerges. I predict about three more years’ worth. In the end, energy density will win if consumers are still in the driver’s seat as energy voters.

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Mark Krebs, a mechanical engineer and energy policy analyst, has been involved with energy efficiency design and program evaluation for more than thirty years.  He has served as an expert witness in dozens of State energy efficiency proceedings, has been an advisor to DOE and has submitted scores of Federal energy-efficiency filings. Mark’s first article was in the Public Utilities Fortnightly and was titled “It’s a War Out There: A Gas Man Questions Electric Efficiency” (December 1996). For more about Mark, see his MasterResource archive.

For the record, since Krebs retired from Spire, he has not been compensated by the gas industry for his work on usage freedom. In his words: “I write for their customers, which gas utilities depend on to remain in existence. I am also a customer and hope to remain free to choose to be so.”]


[1] USCA Case #22-1030, Document #1936915, Filed: 02/25/2022

[2] Recently shortened to GEAG, of which I am a Principal.

[3] at page 73956 of Federal Register notice.

[4] Most MasterResource readers are probably aware of  an order issued last month by a federal judge in Louisiana that prevented federal agencies from considering the harm caused by carbon.  Apparently, that was just overturned, at least for the time-being. According to an article titled “Appellate court rules agencies can temporarily use the social cost of carbon:”

  • A federal appeals court on Wednesday issued a stay that temporarily allows the Biden administration to consider the damage caused by climate change in its decisions..
  • The appellate court’s finding means that at least until there’s a decision on the case’s merits, the Biden administration can continue to use a higher interim social cost of carbon when issuing or revising rules. With sweeping climate legislation stalled in Congress, the administration is counting on these regulations to meet its emissions reduction targets.

3 Comments


  1. Ed Reid  

    We have yet to see a successful demonstration of a fossil-free, renewables plus storage grid, though we have seen several unsuccessful demonstrations of partially renewable grids in California, Texas, the UK and the EU.

    We have also yet to see a partially renewable grid which reduced customer utility bills.

    Successful demonstrations of both would be very interesting and enlightening, though they are unlikely to occur any time soon.

    Meanwhile, we are being “asked” to buy “a pig in a poke”.

    (Definition of pig in a poke
    : something offered in such a way as to obscure its real nature or worth

    Reply

  2. Ed Reid  

    We have yet to see a successful demonstration of a fossil-free, renewables plus storage grid, though we have seen several unsuccessful demonstrations of partially renewable grids in California, Texas, the UK and the EU.

    We have also yet to see a partially renewable grid which reduced customer utility bills.

    Successful demonstrations of both would be very interesting and enlightening, though they are unlikely to occur any time soon.

    Meanwhile, we are being “asked” to buy “a pig in a poke”.

    (Definition of pig in a poke
    : something offered in such a way as to obscure its real nature or worth)

    Reply

  3. Mark Krebs  

    Thanks Ed. I agree and use a closely related term to “pig in a poke.” It is “bet the farm.” The reasons are identical: They can’t deliver. Likewise, they won’t perform an objective LCOE that includes externalities and/or alternatives to electricity and then democratically allow for a open debate of it. This is basically a takeover attempt (coup) of free markets.

    Reply

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