Hoeven, Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce the Water Heater Efficiency Act

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and a bipartisan group of senators today introduced the Water Heater Efficiency Act, an energy conservation bill that would enable rural electric power cooperatives and their members to continue using large, energy-efficient water heaters in “demand response” conservation programs. Cosponsors of the bill include senators Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

The legislation comes in reaction to new Department of Energy (DOE) rules that would phase out such water heaters by 2015; however, the senators say the new rules do not take into account the value of these water heaters to both consumers and the electrical cooperatives that serve them throughout rural America.

Demand-response programs use off-peak electricity to conserve energy and reduce costs to consumers. The programs also help electrical cooperatives to manage load during periods of peak demand. Additionally, in areas where wind and solar are in the energy mix, the programs can help integrate renewable energy into the grid by enabling power to be stored under conditions when renewable sources are not producing power.

Specifically, the bill would allow the continued manufacture of large “grid-enabled” electric-resistance water heaters only for use in electric thermal storage or demand response programs. It would also require “grid-enabled water heaters” to have a volume of more than 75 gallons, be energy efficient and work on grids that have a demand response program.

“Conservation programs use energy thoughtfully and wisely, with multiple benefits,” Hoeven said. “Our water heater legislation saves consumers money, helps rural electric cooperatives optimize their energy management and benefits the environment because the water heaters in the program are required to be energy efficient. That’s good for consumers and good for the country.”

“By using large, energy-efficient water heaters, our rural cooperatives have reduced costs for members and better managed energy use,” Pryor said. “This bill ensures cooperatives are able to continue taking advantage of these cost-effective programs. It’s just common-sense.”

“Utilities’ demand-response programs increase the integration of renewable resources, decrease peak demand, and help stabilize the grid, all while lowering the cost of electricity to rural communities,” said Chambliss. “I’m pleased to join my colleagues in cosponsoring legislation that will allow electric cooperatives and other utilities to continue to operate and expand their demand-response programs.”

“Conservation doesn’t just mean a more efficient use of resources, it means lower prices for consumers in rural communities,” Klobuchar said. “This legislation will help ensure that rural electric providers can continue to provide efficient, reliable electricity to the farms and small businesses that fuel economic growth in Minnesota and across the country.”

Scott Handy is the president of Cass County Electric Cooperative, which serves a 10-county rural area in south eastern North Dakota. He said the DOE’s presumption is that rural residents will have access to natural gas, which is not the case in rural areas like Cass.

“Senator Hoeven’s amendment is important,” Handy said. “To date we have more than 1,200 large-capacity, energy efficient water heaters enrolled in our program, and we’re adding them at a pace of about 200 a year. Those households are paying about one half the retail rate of electricity, helping our members save money and helping us to better manage the grid during periods of peak and off-peak demand.”

“We are very appreciative of what Senator Hoeven is proposing in this amendment,” said Mike Eggl, Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s senior vice president for External Affairs. “Many Basin Electric members, particularly in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, use electric-resistance water heaters for demand response programs. It’s a critical appliance that helps co-ops lower their peak demand during the day. We want to thank Sen. Hoeven for his efforts.”