Big Foot - Big Energy!
Refrigerator and Freezer Decommissioning

Posted on January 09, 2008
Posted By: Bob Nicholas
Talk about environmental and energy footprints, well here's a giant. I recently retired from Snohomish PUD in Everett, Washington. Before I left the utility, I played a key role in managing their programs portfolio and integrated resource planning (IRP) for energy efficiency, demand response and retail green power offerings. I have also become involved and committed to appliance decommissioning as a result of managing Snohomish’s refrigerator and freezer recycling program since its inception in 2004.

Isn’t it hard to find a new energy efficiency program that can save significant amounts of energy, be cost effective, deliver great customer service and be simple to implement? Well that is why I am writing this article to let utilities know about such a program - just as I discovered it. For those of you who already offer these programs, I hope that this article will confirm your experience and possibly enhance it.

I remember when we went through the 2000/2001 West Coast Energy Crisis. We were trying to get as much energy efficiency on the street as possible. At the time, that meant that we needed something as quick as possible, economically sound, and deliverable. I remember being part of that effort along with many others and we came up with a pretty good list of measures; efficient lighting, appliances, motors, etc. and as a result many of us achieved some record high energy savings that we still are benefiting from.

So, what has changed since the 2001 Crisis? Well currently, most utilities across the country are at or nearing energy and/or peak load resource balance, regional spot market generation prices are high and are forecast to remain high, legislative and policy actions seek to maximize the acquisition of cost effective energy efficiency, and most utilities are becoming even better stewards of the environment than in 2001. What has not changed; is that we are still looking for all the cost effective energy efficiency that we can acquire.

So how well does refrigerator and freezer recycling fit into a program portfolio and match up to our title “Big Foot - Big Energy” - let’s take a look at the numbers. In 2004 Snohomish PUD launched its Refrigerator and Freezer Retirement Program. Snohomish selected JACO Environmental of Everett, Washington as its contractor and opted to let JACO provide a turn key service performing the following functions (with Snohomish provided most of the marketing):

  • Call center operation
  • Collection and transportation
  • Complete recycling and processing of all materials
  • CFC-11 incineration
  • Incentive check processing
  • On-line scheduling, reporting, database access

Energy Savings Impacts

For the program years of 2004, 2005 and 2006, Snohomish retired over 10,100 units. Table 1 shows the key results for the first three years of the program based on the 10,100 units. The results show almost the same values for each category across all three years for actual units collected and destroyed from Snohomish customers. The average unit age of 26+ years continues across each of the three program years demonstrates that the program is still mainly harvesting the intended target of old secondary energy hogs (as opposed to somewhat newer primary units). Note: for Snohomish PUD these savings represent an eight year fixed resource of less than 3 cents/kwh.(1) The analysis includes total energy and peak savings on the local transmission and distribution system of the PUD and total costs of the program.

In determining our gross and net savings numbers we needed to adjust for many different market place factors that impacted our net savings values. First the gross consumption/savings was determined by documenting the unit energy consumption (UEC) of each unit, obtained primarily from Home Energy database and the NW Power Planning Council data. Since most of the consumption data are from when a unit was new, we then needed to adjust for efficiency degradation. The degradation adjustment recognizes the fact that as these appliances age they become less efficient and therefore use more energy. Snohomish used a conservative degradation factor of .6% percent per year of appliance age (for reference, note that 1% per appliance age was used in PacifiCorp’s Utah 2005-2006 program evaluation).

Once the gross savings numbers were calculated, we adjusted them for removal and attribution factors to get at our net savings - the overall conversion factor is called the net-to-gross ratio. For 2006, we calculated a net-to-gross savings ratio of 52%, which led to our net savings of 702 kWh/unit.(2) In addition, using the 2006 net values we calculated a TRC benefit cost ratio of 1.84 using a 3% real discount rate. So even with Snohomish’s relatively conservative savings analysis the program was found to be highly cost effective.

For comparison refrigerator recycling programs have been running for some time in other western states like California (since 1994), Nevada (since 2003), Utah (since 2003), and Colorado (since 2004). The California utilities over the years have probably performed the most EM&V of anyone, and most recently (program year 2002) found net savings to be 681 and 897 annual kWh for refrigerators and freezers, respectively (surprisingly close to the Snohomish’s net values listed in Table 1). EM&V for the California utilities for program years 2004-2005 won’t be finalized until the very end of 2007, but current indications from data presented at recent conferences are that net energy savings for refrigerators in particular will be significantly higher for the 2002 program (as driven by measurement methodology improvements).

The Figure below shows the age distribution of the collected units for the Snohomish’s 2006 program. These results help demonstrate what utilities are likely to find in their service areas if they are contemplating such a program for the first time and if they choose to focus on secondary units.

A Big Environmental Impact

Program results show that in addition to the CO2 equivalents for energy savings and for CFC-12 refrigerants (in units built prior to 1994), nationwide, approximately 75% refrigerators manufactured prior to 1996 have foam insulation that contains CFC-11. The JACO decommissioning and recycling process completely removes and destroys the CFC-11 from all units. The materials collected and recycled during the 2006 program are summarized in Table 2.

* CFC-12 (Freon) – 3,589 or 96% of the units contained Freon that needed to be extracted and recycled. These units yielded 9,553 tons of CO2e (each unit with CFC-12 contained about 2.66 tons of CO2e).

** CFC-11 – 2,584 or 69% of the units contained foam insulation using CFC11 These units yielded an additional 5,729 tons of CO2e (each unit with CFC-11 contained about 2.22 tons of CO2e.

It is very important to understand what “recycling” means for purposes of these programs as implemented. They truly are “decommissioning”, “early retirement” and “recycling” programs, which means that these refrigerators and freezers are taken off the grid, never to return, and then over 95 percent of the materials for each unit is properly recycled or destroyed. (In contrast, “recycling” in other contexts might mean reselling, refurbishing, partial destruction, parting out, partial recycling or the like.). Our contractor, JACO has their facilities certified by an independent certification agency to assure that their systems are capturing the CFCs and oil and they provide detailed reports on all materials processed.


Based on positive results of staff evaluations, Snohomish has committed to continue its program for an additional three years including (2007-2009). Reflecting on our experience at Snohomish to date, this is what it brought to our energy efficiency portfolio and customers:

  • Provides strong portfolio performance – passes the key economics tests to establish our business case. The Total Resource Benefit/Cost Ratio often exceeds 2.0 and the life cycle levelized cost per net annual kWh usually runs around 3 cents. For Northwest utilities it is also an approved BPA measure offering available credits.

  • Tons of environmental benefits supporting policy commitments - Provides Snohomish an optimal path toward environmental stewardship by either destroying or properly handling all the harmful and/or reusable materials. Will meet or exceed all Federal, State and local jurisdictional laws and requirements, and can capture almost 5 tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) – for units containing CFC-11 and CFC-12 – in addition to the energy savings CO2e’s.

  • Excellent customer satisfaction – As demonstrated by numerous customer surveys this program offers a positive, high value customer service and a path for the customer to properly dispose of a refrigerator or freezer. It brings them into a partnership with the utility to improve the environment and at the same time gets the old unit out of their way.

  • Turnkey program is easy to implement - Can be managed with minimal impact on existing staff as the service is now available as a turn-key program with the same high quality customer service your utility would give its customer. In other words it is simple, saves time and like incandescent lighting they are just sitting on the grid waiting to be removed.

  • Offers no upfront financial risk – in Snohomish’s and the other programs I have mentioned here, the utility is not billed for services until a unit is picked up and sent out for destruction.

The Bottom Line – Big Opportunity

Based on the Snohomish PUD results, for every 12,500 units that we capture in our Pacific Northwest Region, we acquire another 1 aMW (8,760,000 kWh’s) of power for 8 years, capture approximately 55,500 tons of CO2e (including the energy savings equivalents at 1 lb/kWh avoided generation) and create a positive path for thousands of our customers to participate.

During 2007, several other Puget Sound utilities began offering refrigerator recycling program services including; Puget Sound Energy and Tacoma Power with Seattle City Light planning its start in December. As with Snohomish, these utilities will focus on the secondary refrigerator and freezer market in order to achieve similar results. JACO estimates that together these utilities will capture over 2 aMW’s per year or 25,000 units combined with a technical potential of over 30 aMW’s or nearly 400,000 units, over the next 10 years.


City of Fort Collins Utilities 2005. Refrigerator and Freezer Recycling Program 2004 Evaluation Report.

Heshong Mahone Group, 2002. SMUD Refrigerator Recycling Program Impact Analysis. Prepared for Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Heschong Mahone Group. Fair Oaks, California.

Home Energy 1995. Defrosting Refrigerator Data. Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1995.

ICF Consulting, 2003. Evaluation of the Energy and Environment Effects of the California Appliance Early Retirement and Recycling Program. Propared for California Public Utilities Commission, ICF Consulting, San Francisco, California.

KEMA Inc., 2004. Residential Refrigerator Recycling Ninth Year Retention Study. Prepared for Southern California Edison Company, KEMA Inc., Madison, Wisconsin. Snohomish County PUD, 2005. Refrigerator/Freezer Recycling Pilot Program Evaluation. Everett, Washington.

Snohomish County PUD, 2006. 2005 Refrigerator/Freezer Recycling Pilot Program Evaluation. Everett, Washington

US EPA 2004. Energy Star Program,


(1) This refers to measure life or remaining life of the removed units. The evaluation used results from several studies that have quantified these values; ICF 2003, KEMA Inc. 2004 Southern California and Snohomish PUD’s program data - all supported an 8 year measure life.

(2) The net to gross calculation first utilized removal factors to reduce gross savings from the 2006 gross value of 1,340 annual kWh/unit. Gross removal factors addressed the following situations: unit replaced with another used unit; unit replaced with new unit; space conditioning interaction; take-back (units replaced with other units with similar gross kWh). The net to gross calculation then utilized attribution factors to take into account full or partial free riders. Attribution factors addressed the following types of situations: unit kept unused; unit used part-time; unit retired without the program; and unit transferred outside the county.

Authored By:
After 30 years, Bob recently retired from Snohomish County PUD located in Everett, Washington. Bob provides expertise in managing energy efficiency portfolios, related IRP analysis, the development and delivery of energy efficiency programs, demand response initiatives and green power programs. Bob’s background also includes work in rate design, cost of service and strategic corporate issues resolution. Bob has published articles on Time of Use Pricing, Real Time In-home Information and

Related Posts

Why not ditch the TRC? By Rasika Athawale


January, 09 2008

Bob Amorosi says

Bob: We have had a similar appliance replacement program underway for the last few years in Ontario Canada run by the province's utility companies for consumers, and while I don't have the statistical data on it, I believe it has been very successful too.

The provincial government of Ontario through its utility regulatory agency the Ontario Power Authority has developed advertising programs for the utility companies to consumers, and using government funds reimburses the utility companies for disposal of old appliances. Consumers are offered to have their old refrigerators and freezers picked up and disposed of for free if they are prepared to purchase energy efficient new models to replace them. Also, up to $800 in rebates are offered to consumers for replacing old air conditioners, and even up to $50 to pay to have an existing air conditioner tuned up for peak performance.

While there are definitely substantial and immediate power demand savings in these programs, they however do not account for consumer behaviors over time. The problem is that the energy savings and utility bill savings that are realized by consumers are not necessarily permanent savings. Studies have shown that some but not all consumers after having replaced an old appliance willl later purchase a second refrigerator for the garage or basement as a direct consequence of their initial savings, and thus offset any power demand savings on the grid.

Since a home's utility energy bill lumps all of a consumer's electricity consumption into one large bill with no practical way to separate it into itemized uses within a home, it has never been possible to track and identify what consumers use on specific energy uses, or those who negate these appliance replacement programs' effects if they later buy multiple appliances.

I submit that a real-time in-home energy monitor that communicates with a utility smart meter on a residence could make this possible, particularly if it could track specific appliances' energy uses within a home by communicating with smart appliances that are now being developed for demand response technologies.

Bob Amorosi, Resident of Ontario Canada

January, 09 2008

Bob Amorosi says

Addendum to my last comment - these appliance replacement programs have another limitation. Many consumers would like to replace their old appliances to save money on their energy bills if nothing else, but most consumers find it difficult to justify the expense of buying a new energy efficient one unless their old appliance is near its end of life, or unless they can calculate the purchase payback period from their reduced energy bills.

Calculating the purchase payback period from reduced energy bills is typically a very fuzzy inexact result, because although the appliance itself has a specific power demand rating which is easy to compare with an old appliance, what is always unknown is comparing how long the appliance operates over a given time period with the old one. Tracking its specific energy use however with the help of the right in-home energy monitor technology would alleviate this problem.

January, 16 2008

Gerard Havasy says

Great article! As pointed out by Bob Amorosi on 1-9-08, I believe the major factor in replacing appliances before they break is payback period. If we could determine a new-unit payback period of less then 5 years, (3 is better), I believe you would be able to double the number of replacements. The only way this could be accomplished is with a higher rebate from the utility.

Add your comments:

Please log in to leave a comment!
back to top

Receive Energy Central eNews & Updates


Getting Physical with Cybersecurity

Wednesday Sep 7, 2016 - 1:00 PM Eastern - Your office

IT-OT-Physical Security Convergence for Critical Infrastructure Protection In spite of huge investments in security, attacks in critical sectors are on the rise. Most owners and operators of critical infrastructure assets deal with security in departmental silos which is not only more...

Navigant's Energy Market Outlook and Industry Trends: A View of the Energy Industry Going Forward

Thursday Oct 6, 2016 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The energy industry is experiencing unprecedented change. It is an exciting time as the industry reshapes and redefines itself. Changes affecting the markets and industry are wide-ranging. This presentation will look at the effects of these fundamental and structural changes more...

PLMA Demand Response Training Series hosted by Ameren

Monday Sep 12, 2016 - Friday Sep 16, 2016 - St. Louis, MO - United States

The PLMA Demand Response Training Series consists of three courses presented by industry experts and hosted at member offices. All three PLMA Demand Response Training Courses will be offered. Attend one, two, or all three. more...

28th Annual Independent Energy HR Association Conference

Wednesday Sep 21, 2016 - Friday Sep 23, 2016 - Charleston, South Carolina - USA


Mobile Utility Summit 2016

Tuesday Sep 27, 2016 - Wednesday Sep 28, 2016 - Denver, Colorado - United States

Real-World Solutions, Practical Advice, Field-Tested Strategies Mobile technology is delivering big dividends to utilities, helping them capture new customers, boosting loyalty and connecting field service forces with back-office operations. Now in its third year, Energy Central’s Mobile Utility Summit has more...

Smart Grid Customer Education Symposium

Thursday Sep 29, 2016 - Philadelphia

The Smart Grid Customer Education Symposium is the longest running, most influential gathering of utility industry professionals that meet annually to discuss best practices in smart grid customer education. Whether you are a utility looking to roll out Advanced Metering more...


Get your event listing in front of more than 100,000 industry professionals by posting on EnergyCentral's Event Center.

Sponsored Content