Officials at the California Energy Commission are losing patience with the efforts of the spa industry to help clarify the state’s Title 20 energy standard.

The CEC is serious about pulling the plug on what has amounted to a grace period for the industry, stated Gary Fernstrom, senior program engineer at Pacific Gas & Electric’s headquarters in San Francisco.

“Between the middle of this year and the end of the year, the hammer will fall,” Fernstrom said. “At this point, manufacturers need to get involved … so we can reach some kind of agreement, or the CEC is going to move to enforce the original (Title 20) regulation.”

Enforcing Title 20 would leave a number of spa manufacturers out of the California marketplace. Moreover, other states are lining up behind the new energy efficiency mandates. Oregon, for one, will require hot tubs to meet California’s standards on Sept. 1, 2009.

Under the original Title 20 standard, a covered 500-gallon spa in a room with an ambient temperature of 60 degrees would have to use less than 341.98 watts per hour while maintaining a water temperature of 102 degrees.

The spa industry argued that the testing procedures used to determine which hot tubs were in compliance lacked sophistication and realistic technical boundaries.

In response, the CEC suspended enforcement of the Title 20 energy efficiency regulations, despite the fact that the law required all portable spas sold in California to adhere to the standard after Jan. 1, 2006.

Manufacturers have proposed that spas should pass the test if they come within plus or minus 2 degrees in water temperature, and within plus or minus 3 degrees in ambient temperature, Fernstrom said.

The CEC will accept the more lenient parameters, he said, pending construction of a spa-testing facility at the National Pool Industry Research Center at the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals has been passing the hat among spa manufacturers to raise the $75,000 they said is needed to build the lab. At press time in late January, APSP was still shy of the needed funds by approximately $32,000.

“We’re not giving up,” said Lauren Stack, director of marketing and promotion at APSP. “This is going to happen. We’re going to do it some way, somehow.”

One factor that might be keeping donations — and a sense of urgency — in check, said industry insiders, is that many of the biggest spa manufacturers already make vessels that meet the strictest Title 20 standard. In fact, of the manufacturers listed on the CEC’s Web site as compliant, only Watkins Manufacturing Corp. of Vista, Calif., has contributed to APSP’s fund drive.

While donations lag, negotiations to get the lab up and running have advanced. At press time, APSP was close to reaching a deal with Cal Poly, and PG&E was working out a written agreement to formalize its pledge to help finance the project, according to officials at both organizations.

“The expectation is that in probably no more than six weeks, we’ll have this all figured out,” Fernstrom said.