LOS ANGELES, Dec 14 (Reuters) - California regulators were poised on Wednesday to adopt 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 plan will save consumers $373 million a year and conserve as much electricity annually as it takes to power all San Francisco's homes.
Final approval of the standards, expected at a meeting in Sacramento of the five-member commission, caps a nearly two-year planning process that had input from environmentalists, industry, scientists and consumer groups.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group that helped devise the standards, has 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 a benchmark for a machine's overall energy use and leave manufacturers the flexibility to choose which efficiency measures to use to meet it - an approach that the NRDC says fosters innovation.
"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 - roughly 3 percent of residential use and 7 percent of commercial use statewide - much of that while the devices sit idle.
The NRDC 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 will take effect in January 2019 for desktop 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 America. 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)