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Can California Tame "Energy Hog" Computers?

PHOTO: Beneath many a desk are the jumbled hints of the intense power use in this digital age. The California Energy Commission is considering setting rules for the energy-efficiency of home digital devices. Photo credit: Suzanne Potter
PHOTO: Beneath many a desk are the jumbled hints of the intense power use in this digital age. The California Energy Commission is considering setting rules for the energy-efficiency of home digital devices. Photo credit: Suzanne Potter
April 13, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California may soon become the first state in the nation to set minimum energy standards for home digital devices, including computers, monitors, modems and video game consoles.

These machines use a lot of electricity, even when they're off – and we're using them more than five times as often as we did in 2001.

The California Energy Commission is debating new rules for digital energy efficiency at a public workshop on Wednesday in Sacramento.

Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, applauds California's leadership on this issue.

"Somebody has to step up and say we need to do this,” he states. “When California acts, it tends to get the industry's attention and to force the industry to think hard. And once they meet the standards in California, they end up selling more efficient devices every place."

Last fall, the governor vetoed an industry-supported bill that would have made rules like these non-binding.

The Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group, says the standards would be too costly and are unnecessary, citing the success of voluntary initiatives such as the EPA's Energy Star program.

State officials say the standards would drive up costs somewhat – for example, consumers could pay about $5 more for a computer monitor – but they'd save $26 on their power bill over the life of the device.

Cooper says manufacturers are able to make the changes.

"They've got the technology, they know how to do it,” he maintains. “And, there's this clear market failure and so the standard raises the level of all the devices."

Those who can't be at the workshop can watch it online on the California Energy Commission's website. The deadline to submit written comments is 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA