As if air conditioning hasn’t already become one of the most expensive components of running a home, Washington is proposing legislation that will significantly raise those costs even more. Homeowners across the country should be aware of how this could affect the cost of staying cool this summer.
Your AC’s Refrigerant May Be Restricted
Senator John Kennedy, a republican representing Louisiana, and Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat representing Delaware, have proposed an amendment to the Senate energy bill. It will restrict the use of refrigerants currently being used in millions of AC units across America. Why? The good Senators claim that these refrigerants are contributing to climate change.
Alternative Refrigerant Use May Not Be So Cut And Dry
Anyone who has ever experienced Louisiana’s melting hot and humid summers understands that A/C is a necessity, not a luxury, for most people in Louisiana. So, why and how could such a proposal could come from a Republican Louisiana Senator of all people?
Louisiana isn’t just hotbed for sweat; it’s also a hotbed for manufacturing. Several facilities owned by conglomerate Honeywell call the great state of Louisiana home. The Fortune 100 company is one of two entities that have already patented alternative refrigerants. These expensive alternatives are what would be used if the proposal makes it to law, which would also likely raise the cost of the product even further.
Over in Delaware, chemical company Chemours is headquartered in the state, and Chemours just happens to be the other company that’s patented alternative refrigerants. Again, while more greenhouse-friendly, the product is significantly more expensive and will likely rise in cost if the proposal makes it to law.
The Attack On Refrigerants And Cost To Homeowners
This certainly isn’t the first time air conditioning has been targeted by Washington. Ironically, the very class of refrigerants being targeted by the above proposal as harmful were once the earth-friendly solutions in previous proposals that became law. The compounds under attack today were the very ones that replaced earlier refrigerants blamed for depleting the ozone layer and creating the infamous ozone hole.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed a ban on Freon-22, which had been the go-to refrigerant for home AC units since the 1960s. From 2010 forward, all new equipment could not use Freon-22. Limited production of the compound continued for 10 years so that older units could be serviced and continue to function. As of January of 2020, that Freon-22 leeway for older models ended, and prices have skyrocketed.
Even with government restrictions the price per pound remained around a dollar over the last ten years. Now, it’s over $10 per pound wholesale and even higher if purchased retail. It can take 15 pounds or more to service the average residential AC unit, which means American homeowners are paying hundreds more to simply keep their units running after a leak.
Should this new proposed ban on commercial refrigerants become law, the HFC refrigerants that AC models from 2010 forward currently rely upon would likely face a similar skyrocket in the price to have them serviced.
Late in his final term, the Obama administration twice targeted HFCs in his climate policy goals.
The Kigali Amendment, which was a United Nations treaty provision, would’ve given China and other developing nations extensions, but it would’ve otherwise restricted worldwide HFC production. The Kigali Amendment, however, was never submitted for a Senate ratification vote. President Trump has left it sitting dead in the water.
Obama also spearheaded EPA regulations that would’ve domestically prohibited the use of HFCs within certain categories of new AC and refrigeration equipment. Federal court shot these down, saying that the EPA didn’t have the authority to regulate HFCs based on claims of global warming.
With these failures in the past, advocates of banning/restricting HFCs are pushing for legislative measures directly through Congress. Many of these advocacy groups have self-serving agendas, and rent-seeking corporations like Honeywell and Chemours certainly have a financial stake in getting HFCs restricted so that their alternative products can saturate the market.
For everyday Americans, though, such proposed restrictions on HFCs would result in drastic repair and maintenance cost rises as HFC supplies dwindle and prices skyrocket. Even the cost of new units are likely to go up as they are redesigned to accommodate the use of more expensive alternative refrigerants. There could also be an increased risk of use and safety hazard with these alternative refrigerants since they’re classified as flammable materials.
To counter such concerns, proponents of restricting HFCs point to the surge in domestic jobs it would create. While the substitute refrigerants that Honeywell and Chemours have created would be used in everything from supermarket refrigerators to vehicle air conditioning, the compounds aren’t just produced in the US. Both companies also use China as a production market.
Meanwhile, the House has its own version of the refrigerant restrictions to sift through. Oklahoma’s Republican Representative Markwayne Mullin spoke out at a recent hearing, saying how his experience running a residential HVAC repair business gave him perspective on how badly this would affect homeowners.
The Solution Must Be Pro-Consumer
Rather than measures that create more costs and complexities, legislators should work with the Trump administration to come up with solutions that work for, not against, American consumers.
Restricting HFCs just so that rent-seekers can capitalize is certainly not a pro-consumer move, and homeowners with older units shouldn’t be penalized. Those with older units still functioning should be able to access Freon-22 without paying ten times what they had been paying. A limited production of Freon-22 for this purpose alone would be a pro-consumer move.
Air conditioning is a costly enough part of home ownership without adding Washington’s red tape price tag that the American people will have to eat.