Bad vs. good bulbs on the Hill

An energy-efficient compact flourescent light bulb, left, and an incandescent bulb.


Jeremy Hobson: Well one thing on the agenda in Washington today will be an unusual twist on the light bulbs we use. A Senate Committee will consider a republican proposal to repeal the new standards that have us transitioning to energy efficient bulbs.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: Five years ago, President George W. Bush signed a law that set a new bar for light bulbs, just as other laws had done for home appliances.

Kateri Callahan: Refrigerators, clothes washers, toilets.

Kateri Callahan leads the Alliance to Save Energy.

Callahan: Do we want to go back to the refrigerators of the 1970s that were smaller, didn't work as well, and used 75 percent more energy? I don't think so, and why would we want to do it on light bulbs?

She says incandescent bulbs don't make sense. You know how they get hot to the touch? That's 90 percent of the bulb's energy being wasted. Under the current law, bulbs have two years to perform better or they'll get phased out. The BULB Act would keep inefficient lights on store shelves.

A surprising opponent to the BULB Act? The lighting industry. Fred Hauber runs Eastern Energy Services.

Fred Hauber: This is government regulation that was sorely needed, which also creates jobs.

Jobs in research, engineering and manufacturing as companies like his have invested in new lighting technology.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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I totally agree with Gene upon putting a surtax on 100w bulbs and invest in energy efficiency programs, I discussed with this issue with a lot of people, including a couple of workers from http://actionairplumbing.com/. The "Alliance to Save Energy" Company accomplished a lot of great things and their campaigns are indeed very beneficial, I saw a couple of interviews with Kateri Callahan and her ideas are great.

Perhaps instead of outlawing 100w bulbs, they could have just put a surtax on them and used that surtax to pay for energy efficiency programs.

The heart of this problem is, while politicians and special interests determine that something that's worked for years has to go, they have no viable replacement. Incandescent bulbs create heat, but as was observed in the story, that helps heat your home through much of the year. They provide far better light than the curly-que fluorescents that give much less, poorer spectrally distributed light. The latter are hard to read by and have to be used in greater quantity (so requiring more energy). It's another example of our government trying to define what's good when they need to let private enterprise work. When something that's better comes out, people will buy it.

More efficient incandescent bulbs would be a good thing, but eliminating them too quickly could be short-sighted.

Replacing incandescent lights with ugly and toxic "compact florescent" lights, however, makes no sense. Especially when lighting makes up only about 2% or 3% of electricity consumption. (And in the cooler months, that "waste" heat is actually heating the room, so it isn't completely wasted.)

LED lighting will continue to drop in price, making it more and more attractive for everyday use. In the meantime, using some incandescent lights seems appropriate, along with some simple conservation.

This is one time I agree with Michelle Bachman who, I believe, initiated this proposal. Only my reasons for wanting this are different from hers.

Many individuals have trouble using fluorescent bulbs. They can create symptoms of eye strain, migraine headaches and seizures for some. They can affect vitamin A levels adversely and, as someone wrote in to your site years ago, create a landfill nightmare with mercury contamination.

I find full-spectrum incandescent bulbs last many times (years) longer than regular incandescents and are also healthier. I plan to stock up.

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