California vs. the Big Screen TV

by Greg Pollowitz

Max Schulz writes in City Journal:

Last week, the California Energy Commission approved a groundbreaking series of efficiency standards for televisions, the first time government at any level in the United States has meddled in the details of how our boob tubes are made. The new rules set maximum power-consumption standards for TVs of up to 58 inches, starting in 2011 and becoming considerably tighter in 2013, and prohibit California retailers from selling sets that break the rules. Only a quarter of all televisions currently on the market would comply with the new regulations. High-definition television sets, plasma TVs, larger sets, and TVs with extra options, such as picture-in-picture, are most likely to fall short. In other words, regulators have effectively chosen to ban the sale of most large-screen televisions in the Golden State. Of course, that’s not how the regulators describe it; they bill their decision as a measure to save consumers money, preclude the need for new power plants, and fight global warming. Upon examination, however, those rationales for nanny statism seem awfully flimsy.

Start with the notion of the big-screen ban as a consumer-protection measure. “It looks like a very good deal for society,” says commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld. By the commission’s estimates, consumers will save anywhere from $18 to $30 per year in electricity costs as a result of the new rules. If every one of the state’s 35 million TVs were replaced with a more efficient set, say proponents, the measure would save more than $8 billion over ten years. Says a commission spokesman: “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to save money.”

True enough, but the supposed savings are small beer. Individually, saving $18 to $30 annually is laughable—that translates to less than $3 per month. And the $8 billion figure doesn’t mean much: it’s simply the result of multiplying those tiny individual savings by ten years and a lot of California residents. By and large, consumers understand that bigger TVs mean slightly higher power bills and are happy to make that trade-off. Brisk sales of big-screen TVs show that they don’t mind paying the marginal increase in electricity prices in exchange for the pleasure derived from a bigger television. A few extra bucks per month to enjoy a superior viewing experience—many people would call that a bargain.

The rest here.