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Super Bowl Alert: Could California take away your energy-hogging plasma TV?

In preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, many football fans this weekend will buy or rent the biggest-screen TV they can get their paws on. Most of them, however, will be focusing on the picture quality rather than the impact on their electric bills of having an energy-guzzling mega-screen in their living rooms. But they might have no choice come this time next year: The California Energy Commission this summer is expected to adopt rules that would require retailers by 2011 to sell only TVs that meet federal Energy Star program standards, according to the Associated Press.

The voluntary Energy Star guides were issued in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE) to alert consumers to which appliances and electronic gadgets are green, but they don't keep less efficient products off the shelves. TVs that make the cut are generally use at least 30 percent less energy than those that don't get Star ratings.

The Golden State commission also wants TV manufacturers to affix a label to sets telling consumers exactly how much their new purchase will add to their utility costs. In California, televisions (along with DVRs, DVD players, and cable boxes) on average consume 10 percent of  the electricity in a household, according to the commission's Web site. And during peak viewing times, such as the Super Bowl, TVs in the state collectively eat up "the equivalent of 40 (percent) of the power generated by the San Onofre nuclear power station running at full capacity," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Under the commission's proposal, energy consumption by televisions in the state will have to drop by about 33 percent beginning in 2011. By 2013, TVs have to cut their energy consumption by 49 percent of its current level. In addition to helping the state use less energy, these more energy-efficient TVs, the commission estimates, will save Californians up to $30 per year per television on their utility bills.

There are an estimated 35 million TVs in California that  consume around 8,772 gigawatt hours annually, according to the commission. (A gigawatt hour is equivalent to having 40,000 televisions switched on for five hours a day for an entire year.) The proposed energy efficiency gains are projected to save 3,831 gigawatt hours beginning in 2011 and an additional 2,684 gigawatt hours beginning in 2013.

The commission says its goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce power consumption, and avoid the need to build new power plants. California power companies have built 13,180 megawatts of new power plants over the past decade, and plants designed to produce another 3,200 megawatts are under construction; the commission believes the new limits would negate the need for more power plants down the road.

As you might expect, TV makers have mixed feelings about California's plans. Those, such as Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony,  which are already churning out more energy-efficient plasma and LCD TVs, are on board. However, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the industry lobby, is painting a dire picture if these companies can't meet the commissions standards. CEA economist Shawn DuBravac told the commission at a December meeting that, if 30 percent of televisions fail to meet standards and can't be sold, California could lose $130 million in tax revenue and 15,800 jobs, the LA Times reported.

Energy Commission member Arthur Rosenfeld questioned DuBravac's claims, telling the LA Times that they sound "like arguments we heard from General Motors and Ford that SUVs are more profitable to make and create more jobs. There's a catch to it, as we all know." Rosenfeld added that the 2011 deadline could be flexible, if TV makers make a concerted effort to comply.

Image courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Bim

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