Refrigerator Makers See $14 Billion Bounty in Climate Plan

  • Trade group proposes replacement of 15 million refrigerators
  • Program may cut 36 million metric tons of emissions: group

Appliance makers see money to be made in President Barack Obama’s push to clean up America’s power plants.

Electricity suppliers across the U.S. are under pressure to come up with ways to comply with Obama’s Clean Power Plan, designed to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power generators by 32 percent from 2005 levels. While the Supreme Court has the program on hold for a legal review, more than seven states are still working toward reaching that goal.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers is peddling one solution to reaching the target: Buy appliances. More specifically, the group is encouraging utilities to consider a program that would pay customers to swap out old refrigerators for new, more energy-efficient ones. Replacing 15 million aging fridges may curb 36 million metric tons of emissions over five years and save consumers $6.8 billion, as well as generate $13.95 billion in revenue for appliance manufacturers, based on the organization’s estimates.

"Certainly there’s a benefit to us for doing the program, that being the increased sales of new products," said Rob McArver, vice president of policy and government relations at the manufacturers’ association that represents companies including GE Appliances & Lighting and Whirlpool Corp. "We are trying to position our solution as one way utilities can meet their obligations under the Clean Power Plan."

147 Million

Efficiency standards for refrigerators have strengthened over the years with those sold today using half the energy of the models offered 20 years ago. With 147 million refrigerators projected to be humming across the U.S. this year, they’re an easy target for carbon-cutting efforts, McArver said. His group estimates that its program would save 53,000 gigawatt-hours of power.

"These older fridges can easily consume $50 to $100 worth of electricity a year and result in a lot of additional electricity use and pollution from coal-burning power plants,” Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said by e-mail. "These programs can make a lot of sense when well-designed and sufficient care is taken to make sure the claimed savings are accurate.”

The association is proposing that utilities offer a rebate of as much as $100 to a customer that buys a new fridge and junks an old one. The program would come at a cost to the power suppliers of almost 3 cents for every kilowatt-hour saved, totaling about $1.5 billion based on the replacement of 15 million units, by the trade group’s estimates.

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