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  • Light Bulb Ban Repeal Under the Spotlight

    The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the BULB Act this week, which was introduced by Representatives Joe Barton (R–TX), Michael Burgess (R–TX) and Marsha Blackburn (R–TN). The legislation would repeal Subtitle B of Title III of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007—the phase-out of the incandescent bulb as we know it. The light bulb ban has become a symbolic representation of the federal government’s intrusion into the American individual’s freedom.

    The insinuation behind energy efficiency standards—not just for light bulbs, but for vehicles, appliances, and buildings—is that consumers don’t know what’s best for them. This is clear in what critics are saying about the repeal of the light bulb ban.

    Former Senator John Warner (R–VA) said, “We’ll be dropping backwards in America’s need to become more energy-efficient.” Yet when you take a look at America’s energy efficiency track record, it’s not too shabby—and it’s a result of innovation and cost reduction, not government mandates and regulations. Overall, energy consumption per real dollar of gross domestic product has dropped dramatically in the past 60 years, because we’ve innovated and become drastically more efficient in the process.

    Interestingly, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said of the legislation, “We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.”

    Then why stop with light bulbs? Store-brand cola is much cheaper than Coke or Pepsi. The same is true for cereal, vegetables, and most other products found at a grocery store. Why not mandate that consumers buy the cheaper of the two to save money? Would the same politicians argue that consumers are wasting their money when they buy Coke instead of generic cola?

    The difference between these examples and the energy efficiency standard is that Congress is mandating higher sticker prices on lighting with the assumption that it will save consumers money (through cheaper electricity bills) in the long run. But consumers are not stupid. If the more expensive bulbs were truly better in the long run, people would buy them.

    People consider several variables—not just the sticker price— when buying a product. When it comes to energy efficiency standards, my colleague David Kreutzer writes, “The implication here is that consumers and producers are unwilling to save money. A more likely explanation is that those contending that markets do not take full advantage of efficiency have themselves ignored other factors that should be included.”

    Consumers prefer incandescent bulbs for a number of reasons. Many prefer the soft yellow lighting of incandescents to the unnatural, office-like white light of fluorescents. Residents in houses with wells and septic systems use the heat from incandescent bulbs to keep the water above freezing. Others prefer not to deal with the lengthy cleanup process that comes with broken CFLs, because they contain mercury. There are plenty of reasons consumers buy incandescents, and there’s no good reason for the government to restrict that choice.

    Furthermore, we should be wary of the government telling us how much consumers will save as a result of energy efficiency standards. For instance, utilities in California spent nearly $550 million to subsidize compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) for its consumers, and these utilities were eager to see what kind of savings they would generate to subsidize bulb purchases. It turned out that the savings weren’t nearly as high as the electric utility PG&E thought they would be. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported:

    When it set up its bulb program in 2006, PG&E Corp. thought its customers would buy 53 million compact fluorescent bulbs by 2008. It allotted $92 million for rebates, the most of any utility in the state. Researchers hired by the California Public Utilities Commission concluded earlier this year that fewer bulbs were sold, fewer were screwed in, and they saved less energy than PG&E anticipated.

    As a result of these and other adjustments, energy savings attributed to PG&E were pegged at 451.6 million kilowatt hours by regulators, or 73% less than the 1.7 billion kilowatt hours projected by PG&E for the 2006-2008 program.

    This does not mean that CFLs can’t save consumers energy, but the savings haven’t been as much as the government purported.

    The bottom line is the market is far better equipped to meet all the demands of consumers—including energy savings. The government should not stand in the way with its “we know best” mentality.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    20 Responses to Light Bulb Ban Repeal Under the Spotlight

    1. Observer says:

      Hey we are Americans. We wish to waste as much electricity as we desire; while fighting every power plant expanding of being built. We want to create as much garbage as we can; then protest every new landfill. We will continue to pay any price for gasoline because we all want to drive SUVs and prevent oil production at home.

    2. mickey says:

      Why does control Freak Marsha Blackburn want the FEDERAL government to take over light bulbs? This is her same position on the Internet, she wants the Federal Government to take it too!

    3. MarjorieSarah says:

      We as Americans should absolutely have a choice in what bulbs we buy. There are better ways to be energy efficient than to use those awful fluorescent bulbs. Turn off the lights when you're finished with them, don't turn them on unless you want them on, use your own judgment. Incandescent bulbs last longer if you don't leave the lights on all the time.

      As an interior decorator, I would never recommend the fluorescent bulbs. The light they provide is harsh, makes an otherwise pleasant room unpleasant, ruins the look of the home, and is overall unflattering and discomforting. Besides that, they cannot be used in light fixtures on dimming switches. You might have mood lighting, but it will put you in a bad mood. And should you break one, and it gets on your carpet or upholstery, the carpet will have to be cut out and replaced, and the upholstered piece will have to be hauled to the dumpster. How cost effective will these bulbs be when you have to rip out your carpet?

      As if that's not enough, the shape is as jarring as the hideous light. Ugly bulbs shaped like curly fries emitting ugly cold light. Homes across America, lighted by Communist-style fluorescent "light"? There's a certain psychology involved in decorating. With fluorescent bulbs how is a room to look anything but depressing? How about if big chunks of carpet are missing? I believe the intent of these bulbs is to demoralize and depress, not to save energy. They cost too much and don't conserve enough energy to make tolerating the ensuing miserable ambiance worthwhile at all.

      But this is America, so I support their existence inasmuch as I believe we have the right to choose, as consumers, what bulbs we buy. If you really love CFLs, go ahead and buy them, and use them at your own risk. I would never advise a client to go that direction because I think people are happier when they are in pleasant, comforting surroundings, and CFLs don't provide that. They can also be dangerous, with the mercury poison necessitating evacuation of a room or area of the building for several days and disposal of some of the things the mercury may have come into contact with.

      These bulbs are a bad idea, plain and simple. Buy them if you prefer them, but I don't see how anyone's going to prefer commie lighting – at a high cost per bulb, no less – to the soft, warm glow of Edison's classic design.

      • Ronson says:

        You're right that regular light bulbs are warmer and therefore prettier. I think the issue is more about energy use and mercury. If every american just replaced one light bulb with a CFL, we would save greenhouse gas emissions = to 800,000 cars!

        Also, over 50% of mercury released into the environment comes from coal power plants. So using CFL bulbs laced with mercury is actually better than using regular bulbs…check it out http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/

    4. karen huven says:

      I hate those new "light bulbs" you can't fit mopst shades on them, I suppose they will start a committee to revamp the lamp shades!! These bulbs are dangerous, with mercury in them, so if you dropped case of them, do you clean it up or is there a government hot line that comes and cleans it up in their hasmat suits?!!! Sounds to me like the Government pips haven't done all their home work!!!! Now more money doled out to fix what wasn'[t broken. I want my incandescent bulbs!@!!!!!!

    5. Janet says:

      The cfi light bulbs don't give off as much light as regular bulbs How communist , socialist is this to tell me what is best for me. Who is the gov to tell us how to save money when they can't cut spending or save any of my tax dollars. Of course these bulbs are made in China so there go more US jobs. What is the process to dispose of the " better" bulbs, which cotton mercury? How does that save money or helps the environment ? Just saying Take the gov out of my life and out of my lightbulb choices

    6. Dawn says:

      Does it never end, government thinking they know what is best for us all. They can't keep their own house in order, stay out of ours.

    7. Ron says:

      If the squiggly things were made in the USA, and not mandated, I'd consider buying them. Meanwhile, I'll continue stocking up on incandescents.

    8. @RCMillsJr says:

      The store brand vs coke argument makes no sense to me. This is not about saving money it is about making the most out of a finite resource our energy generation system. There are no more rivers to dam and no one is lining up to build a power plant with out government spending. And we can only burn so much coal.

      also the new compliant incandescent bulbs are already hitting the market. Incandescent bulbs are NOT outlawed , they just have to be more efficient. Conservatives, standing against efficiency, progress and innovation.

    9. David says:

      The best way to stop Americans from wasting our own money is to shut down Washington.

    10. Bobbie says:

      for pete's sake. It's true they emit heat but this is such a tiny issue regarding freedom of choice, government wants mandated government's way. I can't leave a light on just to save money and I don't know anyone, idiot or intelligent that even uses can-descent light for lengths of time regardless of the temperature. This government interference is not the role of government. I dont know any house that doesn't contain both. One for quick use and one for longer usage. Where's the constitutionality?

      Government is regulating our health in the name of the unconstitutional obamacare, yet MANDATES A POISONOUS LIGHT BULB WITH GREAT POTENTIAL OF HARMING OUR HEALTH??? …designed for make-work medical and otherwise or what????

      This has got to stop or we're in grave danger!!!!!

    11. truthnut says:

      I'm so tired of the governmnet bullying us.

    12. Bobbi says:

      Crazy!!!! I buy every incsndesent bulb I find in sale. Have a stockpile. I will use the bulb I wish

    13. jackiediii says:

      the gvernment are fine ones to be talking about wasting money, arent they? No thanks, its my money and I have the right to spend it as I please. And my personal finances are in excellent shape. BUG OFF BIG BROTHER!

    14. Bruce N. Stein says:

      Your interpretation of the WSJ article, and the article itself, is a bit misleading. While there are certainly factors that were over-estimated (they said they overestimated the life span of a bulb by about 50%), the specific section you cite doesn't show that, on aggregate, they were 73% "off". One major reason the initiative didn't reach its goal is because *less bulbs were installed*, not necessarily because each bulb didn't realize a significant efficiency gain.

      The article is unfortunately lacking in any data besides "less", but going by the "What does the author want to be true?" mentality, my guess is the number of fixtures installed were far less than expected, accounting for a significant portion of that unrealized gain.

      Please attempt a bit more intellectually honest rather than snipping a paragraph that says, "THEY DIDN'T MAKE IT!" and attempting to use that as "proof" of some nebulous idea.

    15. Lee says:

      It would be most interesting if one noted who makes most of the "dull" florescent lights. The CEO also plays golf with Obama.

      The newly invented (here in the US) low energy incandescent bulb doesn't stand a chance unless this bill is repealed. I for one will be happy to see it go. GE will lose a lot and the China factorys will have to shut down making the "dull" bulbs. :)

    16. paul li says:

      aha,Wasting money!?Government thinking they know what is best for us all!

    17. Roger D G says:

      What I have not seen yet regarding this topic is how light bulbs are usedin ways other than lighting rooms or hallways. In the northeast and other colder climates, light bulbs are used to keep plumbing from freezing. This is especially true in places that are unoccupied for short periods of time.
      Another issue is the use of bulbs in keeping fowl warm when going from the egg to hatchlings. You will be killing by mass murder of these little defenseless chickens as they try to press they're tinly bodies up to that barely warm bulb.
      Are you going to replace headlights on cars with candles and mirrors next?
      Cut the nonsense, Washington. If I was George Washington, I'd demand the name of the capital be changed to Obama DC or Carter City, or something similar.
      Congress and all those connected have decided we can eventually keep warm by burning all the laws passed which will last us hundreds of years. So long as we don't look for a match with the light on.

    18. CESWT says:

      As an engineer, I am always interested in innovation. While it is true on the surface that the CFL bulb has a higher initial output/watt, the overall economics do not seem to work out. This bulb simply moves the cost around while at the same time vastly increasing the complexity of lighting. In my own informal survey, I replaced most of the bulbs in my home with CFL's about a year ago. I found that if the bulb is left on all of the time, it seems to last slightly longer than the incandescent. If they are turned on and off repeatedly, they fail at a much higher rate – even higher than incandescents. With the 10X cost factor, the incandescent is still the best buy.
      Let the market decide; forget the mandate.

    19. Jp hales says:

      The deaf people are left out in the cold since they use incandescents to let them know when someone is ringing the doorbell. CFLs won't work. Stupid, stupid arrogant politicians who feel the need to run our lives. A nation of sheep breeds a congress of wolves.

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