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California Developing High-GWP Refrigerant Management Regulations

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., September 9, 2009

As part of California’s Early Action Measures to control global warming under AB 32, the state Air Resources Board (ARB) recently released revised draft regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from commercial and industrial refrigeration equipment.[1]  As currently written, the draft regulations would create new obligations for owners and operators of stationary, non-residential refrigeration systems that hold more than 50 pounds of high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant[2] and to any person who services, distributes or reclaims such refrigeration systems.  Due to the system size specifications in the draft regulations, the businesses must likely to be impacted include grocery stores, cold storage warehouses, pharmacies, food preparation/processing facilities and operations requiring industrial process cooling.[3]

The key provisions of the revised draft regulations are summarized below.  To view a complete copy of the draft regulations as released by ARB in August, 2009, click here.  ARB is expected to finalize the draft regulations and submit them for formal public beginning on or around October 26, 2009.

I.  Draft Requirements Applicable to Refrigeration System Owners and Operators

The draft regulations would require owners and operators of stationary, non-residential high-GWP refrigeration systems to register their facilities, perform leak detection and monitoring activities, repair leaks, retrofit or retire non-compliant systems, keep records, observe specified service practices, and submit annual reports to the ARB.  These requirements would be phased-in between 2011 and 2016, depending on whether a facility were classified as “large” (having at least one refrigeration system with a refrigerant full charge of 2,000 lbs. or greater); “medium” (the largest system at the facility having a refrigerant full charge equal to or greater than 200 lbs., but less than 2,000 lbs.); or, “small” (the largest system at the facility having a full charge greater than 50 lbs., but less than 200 lbs.).

A.  Annual Facility Registration for Operation

As currently written, the draft regulations would require the owner or operator of a large facility to file an annual registration to operate by March 1, 2012, and every March 1 thereafter, and pay an implementation fee to ARB.  The registrant would need to provide certain facility information and information regarding each refrigeration system at the facility, including the full charge capacity and type of high-GWP refrigerants used.  Owners and operators of medium-sized facilities would be required to submit their registration and fee by March 1, 2014 and annually thereafter.  The initial registration for small refrigeration facilities would be required by March 1, 2016, but these facilities would not be required to pay a fee.  In addition, registration for operation of small facilities would be automatically renewed by ARB for four years following the initial registration.

If a refrigeration system with a full charge capacity of more than 50 pounds changes ownership on or after January 1, 2011, the draft regulations would require the new owner to register the system with ARB in accordance with the applicable provisions outlined above, or by March 1 of the next calendar year in which the system began operation under the new owner or operator, whichever is later.  In addition, before a covered refrigeration system could change ownership in California, the system would need to be tested and proven free of refrigerant leaks by a certified technician and the person selling the refrigeration system would be required to submit a change of ownership notification to the ARB.

B.  Refrigeration System Leak Detection and Monitoring

By January 1, 2011, the draft regulations would require owners and operators of large, medium and small refrigeration systems that operate or are intended to be operated year round to conduct specified leak detection and monitoring.  For large refrigeration systems that operate the refrigerant circuit, compressor, evaporator, or condenser entirely within an enclosed structure, an automatic leak detection system[4] would be required.  For large refrigeration systems that operate in part outside of an enclosed building or structure, quarterly leak inspections using a calibrated electronic device, bubble test, or observation of oil residue would be required.  Medium-sized refrigeration systems would need to be inspected quarterly for leaks, and small-sized systems annually, unless an automatic leak detection system was used. 

C.  Refrigeration System Leak Repair

The draft regulations would further require the owner or operator of a refrigeration system to have a refrigerant leak repaired within 14 days[5] of detection by either a facility employee or a certified technician.[6]  The certified technician would be required to hold a current and active California Refrigeration Contractor’s license (C38, or in some cases, C20 classification) or be an employee of such a certified technician.  Upon completion of the repairs, an initial verification test would be required to confirm that the repair addressed the leak.  Within 60 days of the initial leak detection, a follow-up verification test would also be required on the complete refrigeration system while the system is operating at normal operating conditions.  If follow-up tests indicated that the refrigerant leak was still occurring, the owner or operator would be required to make a subsequent attempt to repair the leak, replace the leaking component, or prepare plans to retrofit or retire the refrigerant system within specified time periods.[7]

D.  Refrigeration System Retrofitting and Retirement

On and after January 1, 2011, the draft regulations would require an owner or operator of a leaking refrigeration system to confirm, through a follow-up verification test performed within 60 days of the initial leak detection, that repairs have been successful.  If the owner or operator could not confirm that the leak was properly repaired, they would be required to prepare and maintain a dated plan to retrofit or retire the refrigeration system within six months of the initial refrigerant leak detection.

E.  Facility Recordkeeping and Reporting

The draft regulations would require the owner or operator of any refrigeration system with a full charge greater than 50 pounds of high-GWP refrigerant to maintain certain facility records for a period of five years.  Required records would include documentation of compliance with all major portions of the refrigerant management program (registration, leak detection, service and repairs, and required plans or reports) plus documentation of all refrigerant purchases and shipments of refrigerants for reclamation or destruction.

The draft regulations would also require owners and operators of medium and large refrigeration facilities to submit annual reports to ARB, to include:  (1) refrigeration system service and refrigerant leak repair reports; and (2) facility refrigerant purchase and use reports.  For large facilities, these reports would be due beginning March 1, 2012 for the prior calendar year and every March thereafter.  Annual reporting would be required for medium sized facilities beginning March 1, 2014.

F.  Required Service Practices

The draft regulations include service practices that would apply to any person installing, maintaining, servicing or disposing of an appliance that could reasonably be expected to release a high-GWP refrigerant.  These practices are described in section 95383 of the draft regulations and include required refrigerant cylinder evacuation to 15 inches of mercury, use of alternative refrigerants that are approved under the federal Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) in certain cases, and certain other practices previously outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations for ozone depleting substances (ODS).

II.  Draft Requirements Applicable to Refrigerant Use, Sale and Distribution

On and after January 1, 2011, the draft regulations would prohibit the sale, distribution or offer for sale or distribution of any high-GWP refrigerant in a container with a capacity of over two pounds, unless: (1) the buyer were a certified technician, (2) the buyer employed a certified technician (3) the refrigerant is sold for eventual resale to a certified technician, their employer, or an air-conditioning appliance manufacturer; or (4) the refrigerant were contained in a refrigeration or air-conditioning appliance.  Additional sale and distribution restrictions would apply.[8]  Specific reporting and recordkeeping requirements would also apply to distributors, wholesalers and reclaimers of high GWP refrigerants under the draft regulations beginning in 2011 and 2012.[9]

III.  Other Noteworthy Draft Provisions

Finally, the draft regulations contain provisions regarding confidentiality of information submitted to ARB (facility refrigerant purchase and use reports are public records that may not be designated as confidential, however, other information may be identified as confidential);[10] provisions related to ARB’s inspection and enforcement authority;[11] conditional exemption provisions;[12] and a specification that the requirements applicable to owners and operators would not be applied in air districts that were found to have adopted and enforced requirements that would achieve emission reduction benefits from stationary refrigeration systems equal to or greater than those achieved by section 95383.[13]

Contacts

For additional information or guidance regarding the California High GWP Refrigerant Management Program, please contact Laura Duncan (lduncan@bdlaw.com) or Amy Lincoln (alincoln@bdlaw.com).


[1]  “AB 32” refers to the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires California to develop regulations that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  See http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/ab32/ab32.htm for additional details.

[2]  As defined in the draft regulations, “high-GWP refrigerant” includes chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), any compound or blend of compounds with a GWP value equal or greater than 150, and any ozone depleting substance as defined in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 82.3.

[3]  “Industrial process refrigeration” is defined under the draft regulations as any “complex customized appliances used in the chemical, pharmaceutical, petrochemical and manufacturing industries that are directly linked to the industrial process.”  “Appliance” is defined under the draft regulations to mean “any device which contains or uses high-GWP refrigerant, including any air conditioner, refrigerator, chiller, freezer, or Refrigeration System.”  Note that the regulations would not apply to systems that use ammonia-based refrigerants.

[4]  “Automatic leak detection system” is defined in the draft regulations to mean a “calibrated electrical or electronic device using Continuous Monitoring for detecting leakage of refrigerants that on detection, alerts the operator” of either directly detected refrigerant in the air or indirectly interpreted measurements within a refrigeration system that indicate a leak.

[5]  The owner or operator of a refrigeration system may have up to 60 days to repair a leak in certain circumstances.  See Draft Regulations §95383(c)(3).

[6]  See Draft Regulations §95382(a)(11) for definition of “certified technician.”  Leak repairs may be made by a person other than a facility employee or certified technician if the repairs are for under $500 inclusive of labor and materials or if the repairs are made under a contract entered into prior to January 1, 2011 by certain federal, state or local/municipal government entities or certain municipal districts.

[7]  See Draft Regulations §95383(c)(2).

[8]  See Draft Regulations § 95384(a).

[9] See Draft Regulations § 95384(c)-(d).

[10]  See Draft Regulations § 95385.

[11]  See Draft Regulations § 95386.

[12]  See Draft Regulations § 95388.

[13]  See Draft Regulations § 95387.