By Nicolas Loris
San Francisco’s environmentally friendly low-flush toilets are doing what they’re supposed to do: save water. The toilets reduced the city’s annual water use by 20 million gallons, but they have had the unintended consequence of causing sewage problems. The San Francisco Chroniclereports:
Skimping on toilet water has resulted in more sludge backing up inside the sewer pipes, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the city Public Utilities Commission. That has created a rotten-egg stench near AT&T Park and elsewhere, especially during the dry summer months. The city has already spent $100 million over the past five years to upgrade its sewer system and sewage plants, in part to combat the odor problem.
Now officials are stocking up on a $14 million, three-year supply of highly concentrated sodium hypochlorite—better known as bleach—to act as an odor eater and to disinfect the city’s treated water before it’s dumped into the bay. It will also be used to sanitize drinking water.
Low-flush toilets aren’t the only energy efficient appliance that’s had issues. Consumer Reports found that with some energy efficient laundry machines, not only did consumers have to pay a higher sticker price for the machine, but they also had to wash their clothes twice because of the reduced performance—using more energy in the process. Furthermore, Consumer Reports called the Department of Energy (DOE) out for overstating the energy savings from energy-efficient refrigerators. When Consumer Reports conducted its own energy use test, which they claim is much more realistic than the DOE’s, they found much higher energy use. In one instance:
LG says it uses an Energy Star compliant 547 kWh per year. We found through our tests that real-life energy use would be more than double. Why the energy-use gap? DOE procedures call for a refrigerator’s icemaker to be off during testing. On the LG, turning off the icemaker also shuts off cooling to the ice-making compartment, located on the refrigerator door.
In our preliminary tests with the icemaker off, the energy use we measured was much closer to LG’s figure. But that’s not how you’d use the feature at home since doing so melts all the ice. When we gauged energy use with the LG’s icemaker on, we got a consumption of 1,110 kWh per year.
The reality is that producers and consumers do not need government mandates and subsidies to be more energy efficient. Energy consumption per real dollar of gross domestic product has dropped dramatically over the past 60 years and will continue to do so if we allow business to innovate rather than stranglehold them with regulations and mandates. Motives of cost reduction and increased profits go hand in hand with becoming more energy efficient. If a company can find a way to reduce its energy use, it can lower costs and thus the price to consumers. Consumers will respond by buying better products and services. Forced reduction in energy use, on the other hand, can cause forced reduction, which reduces product performance, features, reliability, and longevity.
More importantly, government subsidies are not needed to purchase more energy-efficient products. A government survey of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star labeling program, which identifies energy efficient products, found that 62 percent of households were either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to buy the product without the government handout. In effect, this means 38 percent felt the energy savings were not worth the additional cost of the product.
It should be the consumer’s choice, and the government shouldn’t try to dictate that choice by using our taxpayer dollars to subsidize a portion of the cost.