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California Oversteps with HDTV Regulations


TV sets a curious target for state government.


What can a state government do to decrease energy consumption among a population that has doubled since 1970 but maintains the lowest per-capita rate of electricity use in the country? That's right: Place restrictions on a major industry, resulting in a whopping annual savings of $30 per household and possibly the loss of countless jobs.

This week, the California Energy Commission approved a guideline to limit the energy consumed by televisions up to 58-inches in screen size -- affecting brands such as Panasonic (PC), Sony (SNE), and Philips (PHG). Going into effect on January 1, 2011, the measure will require all sets to consume 33% less energy by 2011 and 50% by 2013.

Although the standards will not affect TVs currently on shelves, future versions of the same model will have to meet the state-mandated limits or be discontinued.

The regulations were in response to the growing number of large HDTVs on the market which require up to 40% more electricity than the warm glow of cathode ray tube sets. However, the CEC has acknowledged that roughly 1,000 current HDTV models meet the 2011 standard and, of that number, about 300 already meet 2013 numbers.

The fact that so many sets already meet the standards has to do with Energy Star -- a voluntary program that limits appliance energy consumption and has been adopted internationally. According to PC World, both the CEC and Energy Star's standards aren't drastically different, only the latter isn't mandatory.

Critics like the Consumer Electronics Association and Best Buy (BBY) have complained that the law is ultimately unnecessary given the Energy Star program and the guidelines TV manufacturers already abide to. In a statement, CEA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs Jason Oxman criticized the move and laid out the risks such regulations would manifest:

Simply put, this is bad policy -- dangerous for the California economy, dangerous for technology innovation and dangerous for consumer freedom. Instead of allowing customers to choose the products they want, the Commission has decided to impose arbitrary standards that will hamper innovation and limit consumer choice. It will result in higher prices for consumers, job losses for Californians, and lost tax revenue for the state.

The Los Angeles Times projects the amount of savings Californians could collectively accumulate in 10 years time would be $8 billion -- not exactly a scale-tipper for 36 million people with a broken economy. Progressive environmental measures are one thing -- occasionally a good thing -- but mandating arbitrary standards on a seemingly random industry poses far more risk than gain.

Besides, a far simpler solution already lies in the hands of TV owners worldwide: the power button.

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