MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
California is about to become the first state to regulate the amount of energy used by flat screen TVs. According to the state energy commission, flat screens account for up to 10 percent of household energy use. But some retailers say the proposed regulations could put them out of business.
NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE: It doesn't matter whether you're using your flat screens to watch nature documentaries…
(Soundbite of TV broadcast of lion roaring)
JAFFE: …or Tom Delay on "Dancing with the Stars."
Representative TOM DELAY (Republican, Texas): One thing I wasn't prepared for in learning to dance is getting in touch with my feminine side.
JAFFE: Both shows contribute equally to global warming. And in some households, both shows may be on at once on TVs in separate rooms. Californians own 35 million television sets and buy four million new ones every year.
Ms. KAREN DOUGLAS (Head, California Energy Commission): So, we actually think that TVs are a really important place to get more energy savings.
JAFFE: Says Karen Douglas, head of the California Energy Commission.
Ms. DOUGLAS: This plan would save enough energy to prevent us from having to build one very large power plant.
JAFFE: Inch for inch, a flat screen uses more electricity than a TV with an old-fashioned cathode ray tube. A plasma flat screen, for example, can use more than three times as much. If the new regulations go into effect in November as planned, many flat screens sold in California in 2011 will have to use a third less energy than they do now. And by 2013, they'll have to cut energy usage in half. But it'll all look the same to consumers, says Douglas.
Ms. DOUGLAS: They will be able to walk into any store that sells TVs, they'll be able to buy a model of whatever size they're looking for. And the only difference is they won't get sticker shock when they take their TV home, plug it in and see how much energy it uses.
JAFFE: Eight hundred fifty television models already meet the proposed standards. Among them, the 40 models made by California-based Vizio. Ken Lowe, the company's vice president and co-founder, even wrote a letter to the California Energy Commission last year saying that Vizio would support even earlier implementation of the regulations.
Mr. KEN LOWE (Vice-President and Co-Founder, Vizio): We were looking at the whole debate on making products greener and we thought, well, if we can try and make our products use less power, that's at least one step in the right direction.
JAFFE: And, says Lowe, energy efficiency has been good for Vizio's bottom line.
Mr. LOWE: 'Cause I think consumers are more and more realizing that they have to look at the TV and see what power its taking. I mean, apart from the fact that obviously they want the best picture quality, but I think the energy is also part of their buying decision.
JAFFE: On the other hand, energy efficiency may be the last thing on your mind when you're kicking back in one of the cushy, theater-style seats complete with cup-holders in front of the enormous flat screens at the Ken Cranes outlet store south of L.A.
Mr. STEVEN CALDERO (Senior Vice-President, Ken Cranes): That's a 73-inch screen right there.
JAFFE: Steven Caldero, the senior vice president of the 10-store chain, says the regulations might make those screens an endangered species.
Mr. CALDERO: Twenty percent of what we sell would not be salable in the state of California.
JAFFE: The Ken Cranes stores have banded together with other retailers to oppose the mandatory regulations. Caldero says the rules just wouldn't work.
Mr. CALDERO: It doesn't mean a consumer couldn't go online and order it from Amazon or an online retailer who doesn't have a presence in California. So it doesn't really seem to achieve what the proposed regulation is claiming that it's going to achieve.
JAFFE: But energy commissioner Karen Douglas says that Californians can still buy plenty of refrigerators, clothes dryers and air conditioners - and those have all been regulated, too. And as a result…
Ms. DOUGLAS: Energy consumption per capita in California has remained stable since the 1970s. That's in very marked contrast to energy consumption in the rest of the country.
JAFFE: So, it appears likely that a couple of years from now, Californians will be able to watch "Dancing with the Stars" on their flat screens with considerably less guilt, at least about the environment.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
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