This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
America’s obsession with the boob tube has run headlong into concerns about the costs and consequences of satisfying the nation’s appetite for power.
This month, California became the first state in the nation to adopt energy-consumption limits for televisions up to 58 inches. Regulations for larger sets are to follow.
Washington state is widely expected to follow California’s lead – if the federal government doesn’t beat us to the punch. The Golden State’s energy efficiency standards has found their way into federal policy over the last three decades at an increasing clip.
Certainly, something needs to happen to staunch the energy drain that big-screen televisions and their accessories have become.
TV-related power usage has more than tripled since 2000. There are a number of reasons for the surge, and most are beyond the reach of regulators. Americans are buying bigger televisions and more of them. They also keep the sets turned on more hours of the day.
Then there is flat-screen technology, which is still a work in progress. These state-of-the-art TVs have become more energy efficient since they were introduced, but a plasma set still uses more than three times the energy necessary to power the old cathode-ray tube television it replaced.
Industry groups say the new regulations – which require new sets to use about one-third less energy by 2011 and one-half by 2013 – will “endanger jobs, innovation and consumer choice.”
Their lamentations sound familiar. They were some of the same ones automakers used to delay fuel economy standards despite damning evidence that technology to build more fuel-efficient cars was available.
Some television sets already on the market meet the stricter standards, and at least one company – Vizio – says it expects to have no trouble complying with the new rules. Other manufacturers will find a way to comply and still keep their products cost-competitive. The question is whether customers will end up having to sacrifice picture quality and features, at least in the short term while television technologies catch up.
It’s worth debating if the market could, given time, achieve the same energy savings without government mandates. Already, 98 out of the 100 best-selling televisions at Best Buy meet Energy Star standards, a voluntary gauge of efficiency. Demand is growing, and manufacturers will be pressed to deliver.
That regulators have trained their sights on TVs is a sign of how far energy conservation measures have come and how narrow the opportunities for further gains are becoming. But with the era of cheap and endless power over, don’t expect the pursuit of every available watt to stop anytime soon.