Compressor regulations: An update

As of December 2017, we “sort of” have a regulation for … something. (Stay tuned.)

By Wayne Perry, Kaeser Compressors

In the September 2017 issue of Plant Services, I wrote about how the federal government published regulations to cover the testing of rotary screw compressors but had failed to finalize the regulations on compressor efficiency standards. That left the industry holding its breath, waiting to see whether the test regulations would be withdrawn or left standing. The industry was/is also concerned about whether there will be a federal efficiency standard. What follows is an update on where we stand today…maybe.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a statement several weeks ago stating that it would allow the test procedure regulation for air compressors published in the Federal Register in January 2017 to stand as written. However, because there has been no efficiency standard or labeling program published in the Federal Register, there will be no enforcement of the test procedure. Here is the DOE’s statement.

“On January 4, 2017, the DOE published a final rule establishing new test procedures for certain varieties of compressors under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA; 42 U.S.C. §§ 6311-6317). 82 Fed. Reg. 1052. EPCA states that “no manufacturer, distributor, retailer, or private labeler may make any representation … respecting the energy consumption [of covered equipment] unless such equipment has been tested in accordance with [the DOE test procedure] and such representation fairly discloses the results of such testing.” 42 U.S.C. § 6314(d).

At this time, DOE has not published a final rule establishing either energy conservation standards or a freestanding labeling requirement for compressors. Given these circumstances, there will be no enforcement of EPCA’s requirement as to representations with respect to the compressor test procedure final rule unless or until such time as compliance with a standard or labeling requirement is established.”

It is assumed (a dangerous thing to do when it comes to government regulations) this means there is a federal test procedure for rotary screw air compressors that will prevent states from developing their own test procedures. However, because there is no federal energy-efficiency standard or labeling program, it seems to leave the door open for states to develop those programs on their own. If states develop their own efficiency standards, it may be difficult for the federal government to come in later and establish a national standard. From a manufacturer’s point of view, there may need to be a CA-compliant (pick a state) compressor as well as an NY-compliant (pick a state) compressor in the company’s product offering. At least the manufacturers will all be using the same test procedure for rotary screw compressors. States may also choose to wait before going it alone to see whether a future administration goes ahead with national energy-efficiency standards.

As of early February, the Washington state legislature has a bill pending (HB 2327) that would set a state energy-efficiency standard for rotary screw air compressors. That bill follows the efficiency levels found in the Notice of Proposed Regulation that the federal government never published in the Federal Register. California has made it known that it also plans to introduce a state energy-efficiency standard in 2018. Although there is no current bill in the legislature, it is likely that California also will use what would have been the federal efficiency levels.

States that decide to regulate compressor efficiency have a fairly wide open field in which to play. If they regulate rotary screw compressors, they will have to use the test procedures that were published in the Federal Register in January 2017. They could, however, set the efficiency standards anywhere they like. If a state also decides to regulate the efficiency of reciprocating compressors or centrifugal compressors or any technology other than rotary screw compressors, it will have to come up with its own testing standards. That will not be an easy task unless a state adopts current international testing standards with minimal changes. The real challenge when setting standards for other technologies is that there is no pool of confirmed performance data similar to what exists with the third-party verification program that CAGI runs for rotary screw compressors. States would either have to purchase and test a large number of different compressor models or rely on manufacturers’ published data, which is sometimes based on different testing conditions and procedures.

So, the “maybe” in the title of the last article should now read “sort of”: We “sort of” have a regulation for…something. Expect another update in a few months…maybe.

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