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Consumers can save $156 a year by using the most energy-efficient appliances sold in the United States, according to a private research group.

"There are many factors that consumers need to look at in purchasing appliances. Energy is one of them," said Steve Nadel, senior associate at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.Since "one-third of the electricity produced in the U.S. is consumed in our homes" the council recommends consumers pay closer attention to the yellow EnergyGuide labels affixed to new appliances.

"We are suggesting that people narrow their searches," Nadel said. The group's guide, "The Most Energy-Efficient Appliances" offers consumers help in doing that.

"If all the households in the U.S. had the most efficient refrigerators currently available, the electricity savings would eliminate the need for about 10 large power plants," the report said.

The makes and models surveyed by the council meet or exceed the minimum efficiency standards established by the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987, Nadel added.

The law provides that minimum energy efficiency standards for major home appliances be reduced by 10 percent to 30 percent and phased in over five years.

"Using appliances and heating and cooling equipment costs an average household more than $1000 per year," the report said.

"We estimate that these standards will save consumers at least $28 billion over the lifetimes of the products sold through the year 2000," the report concluded.

The council study assumes "electric water heating so in homes with gas water heating, since gas is typically less expensive, the savings would be lower," Nadel added.

However Nadel estimated buying the council's most energy-efficient refrigerator, dish and clothes washer could save about $156 a year.

The average family refrigerator is 18.5 cubic feet refrigerators with top freezers and automatic defrosters, Nadel said.

The council report rates a Frigidaire 18.6 cubic feet model as the most efficient in that size category. Based on a national average energy cost of 7.7 cents per kilowatt hour the booklet estimates the annual cost to run the Frigidaire refrigerator at $65 annually.

The average refrigerator that consumers replace costs about $112 to operate yearly, said Nadel. He calculated that consumers would save $47 a year with the Frigidaire model.

For two other common household appliances, dish and clothes washers, Nadel estimated yearly costs for existing models in most homes at $70 and $90 respectively.

The council rates a White-Westinghouse dishwasher which costs $38 a year to operate and a Gibson front-loading standard size washing machine costing $23 a year to run as the most energy-efficient new models. The consumer buying these would save $32 and $67 over current costs.

The council examined less than 5 percent of the models available by July 1989 of refrigerators, freezers, dish and clothes washers, tank and heat-pump water heaters and room and central air conditioners.

The report said consumer savings might be increased further by utility company rebates to users of high efficiency appliances.