District court puts brakes on N.M. energy law

A federal district court in New Mexico granted a preliminary injunction to stop the city of Albuquerque, N.M., from enforcing new ordinances that would increase the cost of heating and cooling equipment for consumers seeking to upgrade to efficient systems.

Albuquerque, N.M. - A federal district court in New Mexico granted a preliminary injunction to stop the city of Albuquerque, N.M., from enforcing new ordinances that would increase the cost of heating and cooling equipment for consumers seeking to upgrade to efficient systems. The final hearing date on these ordinances was scheduled to be determined during a court conference this November.

The federal government sets minimum efficiency standards for heating and cooling equipment based on an assessment of what is economically justifiable for most homes. In the court's 24-page opinion, it is stated that while the city's goals were laudable, its energy efficiency code and high performance building ordinance infringes on an area preempted by federal law.

The ordinance, which was to become effective for new construction this October and for replacement equipment next July, would mandate a 90% minimum annual fuel utilization efficiency for residential furnaces and a 14 minimum seasonal energy efficiency ratio for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps.

“Those of us who know the marketplace — the equipment manufacturers, dealers and installers - have discovered that when minimum standards are raised beyond the point at which they are economically justifiable, it results in more repairs and fewer replacements of older less efficient equipment, therefore saving no energy,” said AHRI President Stephen Yurek. “We could achieve greater energy savings faster, especially in these tough economic times, if we provide incentives for homeowners to upgrade to equipment that meets the federal minimum efficiency standards and take measures to ensure that this equipment is properly installed and maintained.”

Albuquerque's proposed minimums exceed federal standards, which require furnaces to achieve at least 78% AFUE and central air conditioners to achieve at least 13 SEER. The federal minimum standard for central air conditioners was raised from 10 to 13 SEER and became effective in 2006. The federal furnace standard was raised in 2007 to 80% AFUE and will become effective in 2015. Heating and cooling equipment that exceeds federal minimums is available for consumers and building owners.

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