By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California regulators on Wednesday adopted the nation's first mandatory energy efficiency rules for computers and monitors - devices that account for 3 percent of home electric bills and 7 percent of commercial power costs in the state.
The state Energy Commission said that when fully implemented the industry-backed plan will save consumers $373 million a year and conserve at least as much electricity annually as it takes to power all of San Francisco's homes.
Final approval of the standards at a meeting of the five-member commission in Sacramento capped five years spent developing the rules in collaboration with environmentalists, computer manufacturers and consumer groups.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the environmental groups that helped devise the regulations, said the new standards would cut greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion in power generation by 700,000 tons a year.
The California standards set benchmarks for machines' overall energy use and leave manufacturers flexibility to choose which efficiency measures are employed to meet the standards - an approach the NRDC says fosters innovation.
The new standards were supported by nearly 40 companies represented by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), including such Silicon Valley giants as HP Inc and Intel Corp .
"This is an industrywide win for us," said Alexandria McBride, ITIC's director of Environment and Sustainability.
HP environmental compliance manager Paul Ford called the new rules "groundbreaking," describing them as "ambitious but achievable."
"This is a big deal," said Mark Cooper, a policy analyst for the Consumer Federation of America, adding that computer ownership per capita in California ranks second in the world behind Sweden.
In California, computers and monitors draw an estimated 5,610 gigawatt-hours of electricity - representing roughly 3 percent of residential bills and 7 percent of the cost for commercial users - much of that while the devices sit idle.
The NRDC has said the amount of power consumed by computers and monitors will be reduced by about a third once there is a complete turnover in existing stocks of those devices.
The first phase of the rules takes effect in January 2019 for desktop, laptop and notebook computers. The standards would kick in for workstations and small-scale servers in January 2018 and for computer monitors - covering screens 17 inches and larger - in July 2019.
The standards for desktop computers, which use far more energy than notebooks, will add about $14 to the retail cost of computers but save consumers more than $40 in electric bills over five years, according to commission estimates.
California, which often leads the way in U.S. environmental initiatives, already has the lowest per-capita rate of electricity use in the United States. The latest rules could set a new standard for computer manufacturers everywhere by virtue of California's size as a consumer market.
If the same standards are ultimately adopted nationwide, they could save U.S. consumers about $2.2 billion annually in electric bills while reducing energy generation by the equivalent output of seven coal-fired power plants, the NRDC said.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)