This week the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will have a hearing on Senator Mike Enzi’s “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act,” which has also been introduced in the House by Joe Barton (R-TX) along with a similar measure by Michele Bachmann. The legislation seeks to repeal a provision of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act that sets energy efficiency requirements for light bulbs.
Proponents of this assault on energy efficiency claim that the 2007 legislation bans incandescent light bulbs and that their legislation strikes a blow for freedom by protecting consumer choice in lighting.
Don’t be surprised if Glenn Beck dedicates an upcoming blackboard diagram to the great light bulb conspiracy and asserts that the right of Americans to use inefficient lighting is actually spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.
What’s next, a resolution renaming the energy guzzling incandescent as the Freedom Bulb?
Notwithstanding the “bulb ban” rhetoric, the law does not ban incandescent lighting, or any other lighting technology for that matter. Instead, it sets energy efficiency standards for lighting, like the appliance standards in existing federal law that date back to the Reagan administration.
The 2007 law requires that starting next year general purpose 100 watt light bulbs will have to give off an equivalent amount of light (1,500 lumens) using only 72 watts of electricity. While that gives a leg up to energy sipping florescent and LED lighting, the reality is that Phillips already produces a halogen incandescent that exceeds the 2012 standard.
(Note: Senator Enzi and his cohorts can confirm this if they will just trot on over to the nearest Lowe’s or Home Depot.)
Similar requirements will take effect in 2013 and 2014 for incandescent bulbs rated for lower levels of light output. Exempt from the requirements are incandescent bulbs used for special applications – refrigerator lights, for example.
Framing the issue in terms of productivity, a conventional incandescent bulb produces about 15 lumens per watt. If the incandescent were a worker, it would be fired for poor productivity. Ninety percent of the input energy that goes into incandescent bulbs produces waste heat.
A 26-watt compact florescent bulb (CFL) will yield a similar amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent, so it’s four times as productive. Newer LED lighting, which is rapidly gaining market share despite being pricey, is even more productive. LED bulbs put out more than 100 lumens per watt.
Lighting productivity is important. We don’t buy electricity for the sake of collecting electrons. We buy electricity for the services it provides – running computers, chilling food, running appliances, and lighting our homes.
The more light you can get per dollar spent on electricity, the better off you will be economically. Not only that, CFLs and LEDs last much longer than incandescent bulbs.
President Reagan obviously thought that efficiency standards made sense. They did not offend his conservative values, nor should they. Can anyone think of anything less conservative than waste? For the same reason conservatives should oppose wasteful spending, they should also oppose wasteful energy use.
So why would anyone be against standards that result in more efficient products that save consumers money, conserve energy, and improve our environment with virtually no real sacrifice?
Of course these libertarian champions of waste who seek to save the inefficient light bulb complain that any standards are symptomatic of an overly intrusive nanny-state.
They also heap all sorts of criticism on CFLs. This is not all that relevant since the standards do not contain any mandate on technology. Odds are that LEDs will dominate the market once prices come down.
Still, it is worth pointing out that the CFL criticism is off the mark too. Typical complaints are that CFLs produce poor lighting quality, cost more, and that they contain dangerous levels of mercury. Most of these criticisms are based on older generations of CFLs. Today’s CFLs, while not perfect, simply don’t have many of the flaws their predecessors did.
As for the mercury issue, each CFL bulb contains about 5 milligrams of mercury and they do need to be disposed of properly, just like batteries, used motor oil, cell phones etc.
If mercury is the concern, then think about the mercury emitted by all the coal burned to light up those inefficient incandescent bulbs.
Popular Mechanics ran the numbers – one 75-watt incandescent is responsible for nearly four times as much mercury emissions as one 25-watt CFL over the estimated 7,500 hours that a CFL lasts. Even if all the mercury in CFLs were released into the environment, incandescents would still be responsible for more mercury emissions.
It is quite telling how little confidence the sponsors of the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act” have in American businesses to innovate and produce a product that responds to today’s energy challenges. If anyone is trying to mandate a specific technology— and an old one at that—it is these misguided Republicans.