Here’s a consumer news story you definitely would never want to read: The Energy Star sticker on that appliance — which might have persuaded you to pay extra — could well be bogus. Apparently, nobody checks to see if the efficiency rating the Energy Star label implies on your purchases is warranted.
And, of all things, it was a government watchdog agency that blew the whistle.
Energy Star is supposed to be a certification process to assure consumers in both Canada and the United States that whatever it is you buy is a top performer, energy-wise.
But, in what you might suspect to be an April Fool prank by the Scripps Howard News Service, a story made the wires last week that the U.S. Government Accountability Office submitted undercover bogus applications for Energy Star approval — and in some cases got them.
One application was for an air cleaner, purported to be at least 20 per cent more efficient than the average competitor. But actually, is was just an electric space heater with a feather duster attached to it, along with a few strips of flypaper. It was approved for sale with an Energy Star label on it, in 11 days.
Another project was for a gas-powered alarm clock called Black-Gold. It was the size of a portable power generator.
Yet another — and this could be scary-expensive — was for a geothermal heat pump. Totally bogus, but approved with no questions asked.
One project was questioned, a dehumidifier. But after receiving email assurances that it was indeed 20 per cent more efficient than high-rated similar products, it was approved.
Some applications were not accepted, proving that Energy Star staff actually do read the applications. One was a bogus battery charging system, another was a decorative light string and another was a product described as an “electric office hammer.”
Consumers put a lot of trust in testing and rating agencies to do the research that is nearly impossible for the average person. Who can check to see if the annual energy consumption of one clothes dryer really is better than another? And by how much? Enough to make it worth $100 more in the stores?
The Energy Star label is supposed to give us a measure of trust that somebody with the training actually tests the products to see if manufacturers’ claims are true.
If — as this report would lead us to believe — there really is no testing done, and a bunch of bureaucrats are simply taking a lot of money to look at pictures, read some mail and rubber-stamp a certification, consumers should be warned.
In the U.S., the watcher who watches the watchers is the Government Accountability Office. They made up the bogus projects, submitted them as if from real businesses and waited to see what happened.
How many layers of bureaucracy do you need? Just one that works.
And now we know that one layer of bureaucracy we cannot trust is Energy Star.
So as consumers, you’re back to not knowing whose claims of energy consumption are valid for the expensive products that you buy and whose aren’t.
It’s been caveat emptor all along.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.