By Deborah Austin The California Energy Commission has adopted the toughest energy-efficiency standards yet for newly manufactured central air conditioners -- along with new standards for several other electrical devices. The new regulations for residential air conditioners are a 30% improvement on current standards and are 10% better than the proposed federal standard, requiring a waiver from the U.S. Dept. of Energy before they can become state law. The other new California energy-efficiency standards cover commercial refrigerators, beverage vending machines, exit signs, traffic signals, torchiere lighting fixtures, coin-operated clothes washers and electricity transformers -- all of which currently have no federal energy-efficiency standards. Manufacturers have until March 1, 2003, to comply with most of the new standards' provisions. The new rules, part of California State Assembly Bill 970, were negotiated after input from consumers, manufacturers, utilities, environmental groups and other appliance-industry stakeholders.