California Wants to Ban Your Big Screen TV

This nanny state plan arrives in the name of energy efficiency

They are coming for your television. The Orange County Register reports the California Energy Commission is considering banning the sale of big-screen TV sets that don’t meet new, higher energy efficiency standards.

The proposed regulations will make many big-screen sets illegal. By 2011, the commission wants all large-screen TVs to use 33 percent less power. By 2013, sets must consume 49 percent less power. The bureaucrats say the regulations will reduce global warming and save consumers $18 to $30 a year.

If the law was enacted today, the Consumer Electronics Association says about 25 percent of TVs would be non-compliant, most of those being sets with screens of 40-inches or more. Considering that most manufacturers already work to meet voluntary Energy Star standards, it is questionable how much more state agencies can demand from manufacturers without forcing them to pass on these added costs to consumers, which means more expensive TVs.

There is also a huge question about how such a law would be enforced. Many California consumers would simply choose to purchase non-compliant TVs on the Internet, or drive to stores in nearby Nevada, Arizona or Oregon. As a result, local California-based retailers, who provide jobs and income to state residents, stand to lose the most from the ban.

The Energy Commission insists that it is not “banning” big screen TVs, but simply setting higher efficiency standards. But setting standards that few, if anyone, can actually meet is really just prohibition by another name.

The energy commissioners are really concerned about our prosperity. They fret that too many people are buying bigger TVs, hooking them up to Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), cable boxes, computers and digital cameras. We simply can’t have that. These home electronics now consume about 10 percent of household electricity, according to PG&E. So here comes the state’s nanny to tell taxpayers how they should be using electricity and to tell us we are using too much of it watching big screen TVs.

Ironically, these nanny-state tactics are unnecessary. Bureaucrats don’t have to browbeat consumers into saving energy. The cost of power isn’t getting any less expensive. You don’t have to buy into the global warming doctrine to want to lower your electricity bills.

Many television manufacturers, well aware that their customers want to save money, are developing organic light-emitting diode (OLED) televisions that are much more power efficient than today’s sets.

And points out “most of the TVs that would be banned by the proposal would be larger TVs that are already losing steam in the market anyway… consumers are already ahead of the game here. No matter what happens with the proposal, energy-hogging TVs will be gone within two years.”

As usual, customers and companies are ahead of the bureaucrats. To cover the added $18 to $30 yearly cost of that big screen TV, people might choose to turn down the air conditioner, do a better job turning off the lights around the house, or waiting until the dishwasher is full before running it. People can find plenty of ways to be economical when they have to. They might even choose compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Just as the commission seeks to ban big televisions, the state legislature tried a similar tactic with attempts to ban incandescent light bulbs. But the legislature wisely stopped short of an outright ban in favor of a list of requirements that light bulbs must meet in the future. That list, however, was intentionally malleable so businesses and consumers would have some flexibility. Legislators, unlike the energy commissioners, are elected officials and need to be somewhat sensitive to what voters want.

If the energy commission moves to ban big screens, I suspect the commissioners will learn Californians take their televisions very seriously.

Steven Titch is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation. This column first appeared at