Is Congress trying to dim our energy future?

“One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty councils. The thing is to supply light and not heat.” – Woodrow Wilson

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The past couple of weeks have seen heat grip the nation’s capital both literally and in debate. Unbelievably – and despite growing economic uncertainty, a mounting debt crisis and multiple overseas military operations – the U.S. House of Representatives actually made time to re-debate and re-vote on bipartisan legislation designed to conserve energy and save consumers money. Some members of Congress grandstanded with lofty speeches to try and undo light bulb efficiency standards set 4 years ago. Efficiency is one of the few issues that typically generates broad Congressional support and these standards were no exception, gaining bipartisan support before being signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007.

If preserved, these standards for incandescent, compact fluorescent (CLF), light-emitting diodes (LED) and halogen bulbs will save each American household from $50 to over $100 per year, and avoid approximately 100 million tons of global warming pollution per year – equivalent to the pollution of more than 17 million cars. Thankfully the so-called “Better Use of Light Bulbs BULB Act” [H.R. 2417] (supported by a dozen Southeastern Representatives) burned out in the House earlier this month and companion efforts may fare the same in the Senate.

lightbulbsIt’s particularly frustrating that leaders in Congress are trying to undo these standards even with utility-backed data showing the measurable benefits of more efficient lights. A recent Duke Energy news release touts the benefits of efficient light bulbs: “In 2010, Duke Energy distributed more than 10 million free CFLs to approximately one million residential customers, saving enough energy to power nearly 45,000 homes. The energy saved offsets the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as is produced annually by 70,000 passenger vehicles.”

Faced with such compelling data, critics of these standards (such as Texas Rep. Joe Barton) are now resorting to false facts, claiming these standards have pushed light bulb manufacturers overseas. On the contrary, Durham-based Cree Lighting employs hundreds here in North Carolina to manufacture the next generation of light bulbs with ultra-efficient LEDs (light emitting diodes) and Sylvania manufactures energy-efficient halogen light bulbs in Pennsylvania.

For now, Congressional efforts to dim the future have stalled. Nevertheless, more political theater is likely given the hyper-partisan climate in Washington, DC so check back for updates on further attempts to rollback energy progress.

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7 Comments

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Some folks don’t like compact fluorescent light bulbs because of some perceived danger like mercury emissions or headaches from flickering bulbs. But, fluorescent bulbs have been around since the early 1900s and there isn’t any medical evidence of headaches caused by CFL’s (here’s a good article on that subject: http://www.edf.org/article.cfm?contentID=7599). Moreover, the new CFL’s don’t flicker like the old fluorescent bulbs, and there are other types of efficient lighting like LED’s, halogens or new efficient incandescent bulbs that can reduce energy consumption and avoid all the perceived problems of the CFL’s.


Comment by Simon on July 26, 2011 10:25 am


When new technologies and new laws benefit our environment we all win! Cleaner, more efficient energy for all!


Comment by Ottlite on July 27, 2011 2:26 pm


If LED and CFL lights actually produced that much savings for consumers, do you really think consumers are too stupid to figure that out for themselves and buy them voluntarily instead of being forced to buy them due to gov’t fiat?


Comment by Locomotive Breath on July 31, 2011 9:14 am


p.s. The Americans who formerly made incandescents are now unemployed. Must be those “green jobs” I keep hearing about.


Comment by Locomotive Breath on July 31, 2011 9:15 am


I think the thing to remember is that incandescent bulbs will still be made…and so, while it cannot be denied that some factories are shutting down, most are just raising the standards for the products that they’re producing. The biggest companies, like GE and Phillips, already sell incandescents that meet these advanced standards (source: http://mediamatters.org/research/201107180008). Again, this is not a ban or death sentence for the incandescent market: it’s just another motivator for innovation. I’ve often heard the argument that there’s nothing wrong with our light bulbs today; they were good enough for Edison and our ancestors, so they’re good enough for us. They created it and mass-produced it for us, true enough, and utilities wouldn’t be what they are today without them. But then, don’t we owe that to future generations? We have the ability and potential to make efficient, more advanced technology to pass down…why stop at “this works,” when we can go for “this works better”?

Admittedly, big companies like Cree, GE, and Phillips are more readily able to afford these changes than some; but there are success stories in small businesses as well. For instance, the Lighting Science Group (LSG) in Florida is known for making more than 2 million bulbs that meet these new standards and producing them in less than a year’s time. I think it’s also worth mentioning, though, that a tiny company with only 100 employees in early 2010, now employ 400 – and are rumored to be hiring another 200 in the near future (sources: http://www.greenenergyforearth.com/2011/07/07/light-bulbs-spark-jobs-in-brevard-county/ and http://www.rollcall.com/issues/57_4/-207149-1.html).


Comment by Jeannie McKinney on July 31, 2011 10:54 pm


I would love to switch out all my incandescents for more energy efficient alternatives. The problem is that the technology is just not ready for prime time yet. I have an obscene number of flood light “can” fixtures in my house that were installed by the builder. Many of these are in places where there is no reasonable alternative, like the two story entryway. Making matters worse, most are switched in sets of 3, 4, or even 5 lights and each fixture takes a 65 watt bulb. An even bigger problem than lighting cost is the heat these generate. If they are all turned on in the main area in the house (not uncommon in the evening when everyone is running around) it can raise the temperature 10 degrees in an hour! So I wind up spending even more on AC with incandescents. Obviously, halogens are not an options…..
CFLs just didn’t work. They flickered, hummed, were harsh color and many just died after a few months. Even buying expensive dimmable bulbs didn’t work in these fixtures and actually killed one of the dimmer switches we had installed.
I’ve now learned that you not only have to buy not only dimmable CFL bulbs, but also special compatible dimmer switches. So what do I do with the 5 very expensive lamps I have in my living room that have built dimmers?
In my kitchen, the builder installed under-cabinet fluorescent lights that generate a lot of heat. It could be the fixture rather then the bulbs that generates the heat. All I know is that they will partially melt a bag of chocolate chips if I store them on the bottom shelf, directly above the lights. Swapping them out for LED tubes is just not going to happen at $100 per bulb. So I looked into new LED fixtures, which would be cheaper, only to learn that multiple lights aren’t easily connected to the single switch circuit in my kitchen. Do I tear out the tile backsplash just so I can re-wire the lights? I think not.
Don’t even get me started about the “dressing room” style bulbs in bathrooms – almost 30 bulbs in just 2 bathrooms. The current bulbs are clear globe “g” style bulbs and even if I could afford LED replacements, they would look like something out of sci-fi movie with all the fins and yellow color and such. There just isn’t a suitable replacement for these bulb.
So I’m going do a test of LEDs in a limited set of can fixtures. I ‘m going to try the kitchen first because too much light will generally not be a
problem if dimming is as unsuccessful as it was with CFLs. But at $30 each x 6 bulbs, it will definitely be the last 40 year bulbs buy if they burn out in 5 or 6 months as some people have said of the lower quality bulbs they sell at Home Depot.
As for the expensive lamps in my living room, I think the only choice I have is to stockpile the incandescents before they are yanked off the shelves!


Comment by Jane Doe on January 13, 2013 7:16 am


Overall, I wish Congress would mandate some equivalency standards for bulbs along with the energy efficiency standards!!!


Comment by Jane Doe on January 13, 2013 7:22 am


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