Washington Sets Stricter GWP Limits for Refrigerants
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee speaking at an event at the Deschutes Estuary in Washington. Source: Governor Jay Inslee on Flickr. 

Washington State Sets Stricter GWP Limits for Refrigerants in New Commercial and Industrial Refrigeration Systems

New commercial refrigeration equipment cannot use refrigerants exceeding a GWP of 150 as of January 1, 2025.

Washington State has banned the sale of refrigerants with a GWP of more than 150 for new and retrofit commercial and industrial  refrigeration as well as refrigerants with a GWP of more than 750 for new and retrofit industrial chillers, with effective dates in 2025 and 2029, according to new regulations.

The law authorizing the regulations, originally signed by Governor Jay Inslee in May 2021, is an attempt to rein in HFC emissions, which account for 4% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions according to the state’s Department of Ecology.

The regulations apply to refrigeration systems that use more than 50lbs (22.7kg) of refrigerant. For new equipment, it takes effect January 1, 2025. The selling and leasing of equipment subject to the regulation but manufactured before it went into effect will be allowed until January 1, 2026. Retrofitted equipment will not be subject to the regulation until January 1, 2029.

The 150-GWP limit applies to new and retrofit supermarket systems as well as cold storage and industrial processing systems (excluding chillers) and new ice rinks (including chillers).

The law also covers the residential sector and sets a limit of 750 GWP on refrigerants in new and retrofit air conditioners, heat pumps and dehumidifiers. For new room air conditioners, this took effect January 1, 2024; for retrofit air conditioners, it will take effect January 1, 2029.

“While HFCs pose a real risk to the climate, the good news is that safer alternatives are readily available.”

Washington State Department of Ecology

Washington’s HFC regulation is modeled after a 2020 California regulation. More recently, under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, the Environmental Protection Agency set similar restrictions on GWPs for HVAC&R equipment.

In addition to regulating manufacturers, operators of large stationary air conditioners and refrigeration systems are required to record their HFC usage and take measures to repair leaks. These provisions will be enforced through a new refrigerant management program overseen by the Department of Ecology.

“The new refrigerant management program will address the approximately 3.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent that leak into the atmosphere every year,” the Department of Ecology said in a July 2023 article in the Center Square Washington. “That’s equivalent to what comes out of the tailpipes of about 740,000 cars. While HFCs pose a real risk to the climate, the good news is that safer alternatives are readily available. Many manufacturers have already made the switch.”

Usage fees in 2026

Under the new law, businesses that continue to use existing refrigeration or air-conditioning systems with more than 200lbs (90.7kg) of refrigerant with a GWP greater than 150 will be subject to fees beginning in 2026.

Operators of refrigeration equipment that uses between 200 and 1,499lbs (679.9kg) of refrigerant will pay annual fees of $170, while systems requiring 1,500lbs (680.4kg) of refrigerant or more will owe a one-time fee of $150 and an annual fee of $370. The funds will be used to administer the refrigerant management program.

The Department of Ecology has set leak rate thresholds for commercial operators using equipment with more than 50lbs of refrigerant. The thresholds use a 12-month rolling average, with businesses required to calculate leaks every time they’re inspected for them or when new refrigerant is added. Those thresholds are:

  • 16% percent for commercial or retail refrigeration
  • 24% percent for industrial process refrigeration
  • 8% percent for air-conditioning

Businesses will be required to report all leaks to the Department of Ecology and, starting in 2024, will have to complete repairs within 14 days using a certified technician or within 45 or 120 days if an allowance is granted.

Speaking to Seattle’s KUOW Public Radio, Leonard Machut, HFC Unit Implementation Supervisor at the Department of Ecology, detailed the objectives of the refrigerant management program.

“The goal here really is to allow those systems to continue operating through their natural lifespan because they are obviously significant investments for a business, but doing so in a way that is minimizing the amount of refrigerant that’s leaking out of them,” said Machut.

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