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New Efficiency Standards Sought for Commercial Packaged Boilers

June 7, 2016
The U.S. Department of Energy's proposed rule revising efficiency standards for commercial packaged boilers is open for public comment until June 22, 2016.

On March 24, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published a proposed rule revising efficiency standards for commercial packaged boilers (CPB). According to DOE’s analysis, tighter standards “are technologically feasible and economically justified and would result in significant additional conservation of energy.” This proposal is open for public comment until June 22, 2016.

DOE defines “commercial packaged boiler” as a packaged low-pressure unit with a capacity (rated maximum input) of 300,000 Btuh or more distributed in commerce for (1) heating or space conditioning in buildings or for (2) service water heating in buildings without meeting the definition of “hot-water supply boiler.” CPB manufacturers have been required to comply with DOE conservation standards since July 2009.

DOE is required to evaluate CPB efficiency standards every six years. DOE’s proposal also would modify boiler-equipment classes and expand their number from 10 to 12. The proposed standards, which prescribe minimum thermal or combustion efficiencies, are shown in Table 1. If adopted, the new standards would apply three years after the final rule is published.

TABLE 1. Proposed energy-conservation standards for commercial packaged boilers. (Source: Federal Register, March 24, 2016)

DOE’s analysis predicts the new standards would save $2,782 for a small gas-fired steam boiler up to $36,128 for a large oil-fired boiler, with a payback of 7.4 years and 2.8 years, respectively. Additionally, DOE cites extensive environmental benefits, particularly regarding reduced nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide. The agency estimates boiler manufacturers would incur $27.5 million in conversion costs.

DOE held a public hearing on the proposed revisions in Washington, D.C., April 21. Forty-one people attended. Comments during the meeting prompted the agency to announce on April 26 a one-month extension of the public-comment period, from May 23 to June 22. That extension is helpful, of course, but the request to DOE actually was more substantial and urgent. Industry representatives—led by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI)—want DOE to suspend this rulemaking, not just delay it. Importantly, AHRI’s comments are referenced and seconded by other industry groups. St. Louis-based Laclede Gas Co., for example, wanted a 120-day suspension to permit the development of a proper test procedure and a corresponding extension of the comment period. The American Gas Association and the American Public Gas Association similarly reference and support AHRI’s core comments.

Like many regulatory initiatives, these proposed efficiency revisions do not stand alone. Rather, for boiler manufacturers and their customers, the new demands are tightly intertwined with concurrent regulatory proceedings, setting up a swirl of issues in a confusing landscape.

AHRI and others present a number of concerns, starting with the sheer volume of material DOE cites to support the call for tighter standards; the technical support documents (TSD) contain 17 chapters and 24 appendices totaling 726 pages.

In AHRI’s comments to DOE, Frank Stanonik, AHRI’s chief technical advisor, writes 60 days is not “enough time to review all the data and information in the TSD, gather data and information that support concerns we may have regarding that analysis, and then provide comments.”

Industry representatives additionally claim DOE is out of step with its own rulemaking procedures. Stanonik cites the procedures set forth in a process rule (10 CFR 430, Subpart C, Appendix A) directing final test procedures be issued prior to draft rules on proposed standards.

On March 17, a week before the efficiency rule was published, DOE published an amended test-procedures rule. The comment period for the amended test rule ended May 31—after the (initial) deadline for comments on the efficiency rule.

“If stakeholders ... do not know the exact procedure for testing equipment to determine compliance with the standard, how can they adequately comment on and evaluate the impact of the efficiency standard?” Stanonik asks.

DOE has two years to finalize this issue, with the clock starting with the proposed revision, March 24; hence AHRI’s request the agency suspend the rulemaking. Stanonik writes that “suspending the efficiency standards rulemaking for five or six months will not prevent DOE from meeting its March 24, 2018, target” and would allow the rulemaking to return to the “normal and proper process” of finalizing test-procedure changes before considering changes in efficiency standards.

On April 26, James Raba of DOE’s Building Technologies Office announced an extension of the public comment period, but denied requests to suspend the rulemaking. Raba’s announcement did not provide any insight into the thinking behind those decisions. DOE did not respond to a query regarding its take on AHRI’s comments about timing and procedure.

In an interview, Stanonik noted the revised standards also present important technical issues, such as challenges concerning condensation and ventilation.

Comments on the proposal should be e-mailed to [email protected] by the end of business on June 22. The docket number, EERE–2013–BT–STD–0030, should be included in the subject line.

Tom Ewing is a freelance writer focused on issues linked to air quality and U.S. EPA regulatory oversight.

About the Author


Tom Ewing is a freelance writer specializing in energy and environmental issues.