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Commentary: Biden’s Department of Energy doesn’t know what will save Virginians money

Jul 23, 2023Jul 23, 2023

Tankless water heaters are a more recent development in heating technology and operate by heating water when it moves through the waterline instead of storing hot water in limited quantities in tanks. These water heaters are more expensive than traditional tank heaters but usually have double the lifespan. Luckily, water heaters can sometimes be repaired rather than being replaced altogether: Common repairs include replacing the heating element or fixing water pressure.

In the first weeks of 2022, it came time to replace a number of appliances in our Manassas, Virginia home.

The attic’s insulation was no longer effective and the AC/heating system was struggling to push air into every room.

Thanks to a detail-focused handyman, we also learned that the water heater was in dire need of replacement.

HVAC repair was enough to bust whatever budget we had in mind for home repairs to get us through winter, and the subject of also buying a water heater was insult atop injury.

We considered our options and financed a new $800 water heater and far more expensive HVAC system at 9.99% interest over a 12-month period.

Like everyday consumers across America, my wife and I have the most intimate understanding of our finances and the conflicting priorities within our monthly budget.

Does Joe Biden’s administration and his Department of Energy under Jennifer Granholm, presume to know what was best for us when we needed new home appliances?

In July, Biden’s DOE released new proposed energy-efficiency standards for water heaters, following a contentious few months of defending their intent to restrict consumer’s use of gas range stoves.

The administration both defended its policy while simultaneously claiming the coming restrictions were pure fiction dreamed up by their opponents in Congress.

Come 2029, these regulations would mandate that new boiler installations employ electric heat pumps. These heat pumps draw warmth from the surrounding air to heat water, as opposed to internally heating the water.

The standards for traditional gas-fired water heaters will be tightened, with the inevitable effect of increased costs.

The economics of this are quite simple. Heat pump water heaters are more energy-efficient machines because they take in surrounding heat rather than having to create every bit of heat from nothing.

Consumers stand to save several hundred dollars per year on a heat pump system. The Biden administration and its environmentalist hawks favor pumps because they produce less emissions than gas boilers.

The problem is that heat pump water heaters are more expensive, sitting anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 upfront for the device — whereas conventional gas heaters are usually only $500 to $1,000.

In a perfect world, consumers would think long-term about every expenditure and investment they make. But since we live in the real world, people are just trying to get to tomorrow.

Collectively, Americans now owe over $1 trillion in credit card debt, led primarily by credit card balances.

Virginia is in the top 10 nationwide, with the average Virginian needing at least 13 months to pay down their balances, according to a study by WalletHub.

A lot of us are spending money we don’t have, and it’s gotten so bad during this period of high inflation that even groceries are being purchased on credit in record numbers. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone, I’ve been there.

If you’re debt-free or financially secure, the DOE rules which would force you toward a more expensive and efficient water heater will not seem like a big deal.

If you’re like the millions of Americans treading water due to the rising costs of living, that water heater will more than likely go onto your credit card tab. With credit card delinquency rates rising, any savings from energy efficiency will disappear.

The ugly thing about making big purchases on credit is that you’re gambling on nothing else bad happening in the no-interest period of the debt. In our case, go figure, more bad stuff happened. Fifteen months later we’re still paying for that financed water heater and sorting through the accumulated interest.

The White House has recycled DOE Secretary Granholm’s talking point about consumers saving around $1,000 over the lifetime of the heat pump water heaters, but don’t be surprised if they quietly walk back the projected consumer savings like just happened with the Department of Energy’s report on gas stove regulations.

Regardless of whether one device or another saves my family money month to month by being more energy-efficient, regulators don’t know what’s going on in my life or my bank account.

Consumers will buy the products they need when they need them and in the case of expensive appliances, that probably just means adding to their debt. Consumers truly save money when they can afford the products they buy and get to choose from a wide range of appliances on the market.

We’ll manage our home, Secretary Granholm, you manage yours.

Stephen Kent

Stephen Kent is a resident of Manassas and media director for the Consumer Choice Center. He can be found on Twitter @stephen_kent89.

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