California bans power-hog TVs. Will the rest of the country follow?

Yet again the Golden State has set a de facto national environmental policy. It came this time when officials moved on Nov. 18 to ban sales of all big-screen TVs in California after 2010 if the sets don't meet state energy efficiency requirements. The ban has been brewing for several months now as the California Energy Commission (CEC) has debated a mandate that would require a 33% improvement in energy efficiency for all TVs sold starting Jan. 1, 2011, and a 50% improvement for sets sold starting Jan. 1, 2013.

These mandates would force off the market all current-generation plasma TVs with screens over 40 inches. LCD (liquid crystal display) sets tend to be more efficient, but many of the current models also wouldn't meet the new requirements. In short: Hasta la vista, Señor Plasma!

The CEC's stated rationale is to reduce energy demand. TVs and video-playing devices suck up 10% of California's power. The new requirements would save residents $1 billion in energy costs annually, according to the CEC. But the Golden State might end up saving America as a whole a lot more. With what is effectively the world's eighth-largest economy, California policies drive a green energy agenda like no other state of the union. The threat of losing access to California's huge consumer electronics market could easily cow manufacturers into compliance.

Thus far, the law has caused little public uproar, even though big-screen TVs remain among the most popular consumer electronics buys despite the economic malaise. However, the Consumer Electronics Association, the industry trade group representing manufacturers, has argued that the mandates move too fast and will dramatically jack up the cost of sets. Higher costs, in turn, could damage sales, not to mention the already-ailing electronics retailers and component manufacturers.

At an Oct. 13 CEC hearing, CEA representative Douglas Johnson said: "The core concern here really has to do with the element of the commission's proposed regulations that would impose a mandatory power-consumption limit on televisions. Such regulation undercuts innovation, it does harm consumers, ultimately, and it certainly harms TV manufacturers in related industries."

Fewer New Power Plants Needed

Not all big TV makers are worried, though. At the same October hearing, Kenneth Lowe, chief technical officer of the country's leading flat-panel TV maker, Vizio, said: "Today, several of our models already meet the proposed Tier 2 levels that are not scheduled to go into effect until Jan. 1, 2013. We are in the process of redesigning our other models so that the new designs will meet these levels by the CEC deadlines." Lowe figured the mandate could add an additional $40 per set, hardly a deal-breaker on a $1,000-plus purchase.

If the CEC's numbers on video-device energy consumption are accurate, the mandate could result in a significant decrease in electricity consumption over time, based on current usage levels. Taken to a national level, the savings could be enormous -- enough to eliminate numerous power plants on the drawing boards right now. The California standards could also become a model for using conservation to tackle both power demand and global warming issues.

Remember, the highest percentage of energy generated in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants. With a now-compliant U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration unwilling to issue challenges to state rulings, as was the practice during the past administration, California could well end up as the big stick in the national efforts to reduce energy consumption. And it could turn into a state-level equalizer to the climate-change foot-dragging that has plagued Washington to date.

Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at

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