Los Angeles often is derided as la-la land, but that moniker could apply just as easily to Sacramento, where the nation’s latest example in nanny-state micro-regulation of citizens’ lives has sprung.
Officials in the Golden State’s capital want to ban big-screen televisions as part of their crusade against global warming.
Big-screen TVs are energy hogs, consuming more power than smaller sets. Yet they are extremely popular with consumers. There are an estimated 35 million television sets in the state, and Californians buy about 4 million new TVs a year.
Regulators fear that increasing numbers of big-screen televisions will lead to greater electricity consumption and more greenhouse gas emissions. So the sale of televisions with screens 40 inches or bigger would be banned under a plan the California Energy Commission unveiled to regulate the energy efficiency of TVs sold within the state’s borders.
Sacramento’s mandarins are attempting to sell this scheme by pointing to the money consumers will save. Televisions account for about 10 percent of a home’s energy bill, and regulators say the new measure will save consumers from $18 to $30 a year.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to save money,” said a spokesman for the California Energy Commission.
By and large, however, consumers understand that bigger TVs mean somewhat higher power bills and are happy to make that trade-off. To them, it is worth $1 to $3 a month to enjoy a superior viewing experience. Brisk sales of big-screen TVs show that consumers don’t mind paying the marginal increase in electricity prices in exchange for the benefits, convenience, and pleasure derived from a bigger television.
Claiming that electricity should be rationed to save consumers from their own entirely sensible economic choices is patronizing. Down deep, this is really about California officials’ inability to recognize the realities of markets and human behavior. It is about their unwillingness to adopt policies that accommodate consumers’ habits and desires.
The New York Times noted recently that “Americans now have about 25 consumer electronic products in every household, compared with just three in 1980.” Though our recent energy debates have focused on oil, America’s real energy trends have to do with the increasing electrification of our economy.
The International Energy Agency calculates that electrical gadgets of all sorts account for about 15 percent of households’ electricity bills. More than that, the agency figures that the energy consumed from these gadgets (as well as from the infrastructure that supports information technology) will double by 2020 and triple by 2030.
Policymakers should embrace that reality, not deny it. They should take steps to build more power plants that can produce industrial-scale electricity from reliable sources such as natural gas, nuclear, and coal.
Yet California has it backward, with a moratorium on building nuclear plants in the state, and no large-scale coal plants to speak of in the state. And while the Golden State has imported a significant amount of coal-generated electricity from Western neighbors in recent years, Sacramento is trying to cut off those sources too. Instead, state policies seemed geared only toward building uneconomical wind and solar plants that produce sporadic power ill-suited for a 21st-century economy.
A policy in which the government tells Californians it knows what televisions are good for them is suffused with irony, because it won’t work. The regulations will outlaw the sale of certain TVs within the state. That won’t stop consumers from buying the TVs they want on shopping trips to Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe, or online (or via the black market).
And even if the California Energy Commission’s efforts did succeed in minimizing the growth in the state’s electricity demand, it will have virtually no impact on global temperatures.
So what’s the point? If it is to preen and to strike a green pose, mission accomplished. If it’s to do anything worthwhile for taxpayers, then the California Energy Commission should shelve this ridiculous, paternalistic proposal. Too often California’s environmental ideas travel east and become enshrined in the laws and regulations Washington promulgates.
Let’s hope this idea dies at the Golden State’s border.
Max Schulz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
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