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California Official: No Plan to Ban Big-Screen TVs

Despite widespread reports in the media, California is not planning to ban the sale of large-screen TVs, an Energy Commission spokesman said.

The reports—in several California-based news outlets in the past week—stirred outrage among California residents, who saw this as another attempt by state government to regulate their personal lives. California's move, an attempt to cut down on energy use, was also being studied by several other states, including Massachusetts.

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In reality, California is planning to impose tougher power-consumption standards on TVs with screen sizes of 58 inches or less, according to Adam Gottlieb, a spokesperson for the Energy Commission.

"Screens greater than 58 inches are not being considered at this time," he added.

In a public hearing last Tuesday, both the CEC and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that represents the consumer electronics industry presented their cases before the commission.

The CEC cites both cost savings in electric bills to the state's residents and reduced power consumption, which continually prove a challenge to the state's troubled power grid.

While the savings per consumer per television come to a modest $18 to $30 annually, the proposed rulings are expected to reduce power consumption statewide by 6,515 gigawatt hours while avoiding the construction of a $615 million natural gas power plant. According to the CEC, 6,515 gigawatt hours is sufficient to power 864,000 single-family homes for a year. The savings in power would also result in a reduction of 3.5 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.

The CEC's proposed ruling take effect in two tiers. The first tier will come into effect on January 1, 2011, while the second tier will take effect January 1, 2013.

Arguing that the proposed regulations are unnecessary, arbitrary and an impediment to innovation, the CEA contends that the voluntary Energy Star program has already been successful in reducing the power consumption of consumer electronic goods while offering the flexibility necessary for innovative product development.

"None of us knows the future or the impact of new display technologies in a highly innovative industry. If similar regulations had been in place ten years ago, LCD and plasma technology would have never made it to market," said Jennifer Bemisderfer, a spokesperson for the CEA.

"As it is, these regulations stand to delay the availability of innovations like 3D-TV and Internet-enabled TV in California."

The CEC however, maintains that the rulings are realistic, being less stringent than the upcoming Energy Star 4.0 and 5.0 requirements while coming into effect later.

The New York Times reported yesterday that an internal audit by the Energy Department concluded that manufacturer compliance with its Energy Star program has not been properly enforced.

In light of this development, Bemisderfer said that the CEA is "not aware of any problems with the Energy Star program for consumer electronics," adding that "what we have is a very well functioning program with marketplace verification systems already in place."

A study was also commissioned by the CEA and conducted by the economic consulting firm, Resolution Economics LLC. The study found that the proposed rulings could result in the loss of $50 million in state tax revenue and 4,600 retail jobs in California due to consumers resorting to out-of-state or online stores to purchase non-compliant televisions.

In response Gottlieb countered that online stores that sell merchandise to California residents will have to comply with California law. Gottlieb claimed that energy efficient models that offer equal or better performance will be widely available and cost manufacturers little or no more to produce, citing a list of compliant models that number over 1,000.

"The claims in the report are simply baseless," said Gottlieb. "The report, commissioned by the CEA, assumes that televisions that do not comply with the proposed efficiency standards will simply go away leaving shelves bare."

The CEC could vote on the proposed ruling as soon as November 4, 2009.