Barton’s bulb battle isn’t over

A GOP effort to repeal a 2007 energy law requiring more energy-efficient light bulbs failed in the The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, but the bill’s main sponsor says he’s not done fighting yet.

“The issue is too important to let it go away,”  said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Arlington), who has cast the Bush-era law that phases in more efficient bulbs as a battle against Big Government.

“It is the perfect symbol of government over regulation and that is why we will continue to look for avenues to bring this bill up and ultimately repeal the de facto ban on traditional light bulbs,” Barton said in a statement.

The rules require new bulbs sold in the U.S. to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent light bulbs. Compact fluorescent lights (aka CFLs, those squiggly-looking light bulbs) are largely seen as the most likely replacement, but the higher upfront cost of the CFLs and the small amounts of mercury in them have been rallying points for opponents.

With the first deadline for the phase-in of the new efficiency standards looming — 100-watt bulbs must meet the new standards by Jan. 1, 2012, 75-watt bulbs by 2013 and 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs in 2014 — Barton and others launched efforts to repeal the rules.

Supporters of the efficiency standards, such as the National Resources Defense Council, say the law can cut U.S. household power bills by about 7 percent or an average of $85 every year when fully implemented (state-by-state savings ranged from $225 per year in Hawaii, $92 in Texas down to $51 in North Dakota). It could also eliminate the need for 33 large power plants.

But Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Denton), who worked on the bill with Barton, emphasized the upfront costs of the move in his statement against the standards.

“The new bulbs cost more and at a time when American families are already tightening their budgets, they should be able to choose the standard inexpensive bulb that has been available for years,” Burgess said.

NRDC counters that costs are being exaggerated by efficiency opponents. A shopping guide NRDC put together (written by someone comparing prices in the Washington, D.C. area) found the CFLs aren’t the only option:

“I found a Philips 72W efficient incandescent bulb for $1.50 at Home Depot.  The 100W bulb was cheaper – it was just 31 cents. Both bulbs are rated to last 1000 hours, or about 18 months at 2 hours per day.  But, the electricity I’ll save with the more efficient bulb covers my extra up front cost in just seven months.

For the remaining 11 months the product operates, I’m making money.  Altogether, I figured my total cost (bulb plus electricity) with the conventional bulb is $10.59 while my total cost for the efficient incandescent is just $8.90.” 

A series of stories in Chemical & Engineering News also notes how the phase-out of incandescents is opening the door for LEDs (light emitting diodes) to become more competitive with CFLs.

“LEDs are somewhat more energy efficient than CFLs, and they last about 50,000 hours, versus 10,000 hours for CFLs. But LEDs are expensive.

A recent C&EN check of the Home Depot found 40-W-equivalent LED bulbs on sale for about $18 each. Comparable fluorescents were on sale for about $1.00 each. To capture more of the lighting market, Anwar says, LED makers must bring costs down to a “more manageable level” by scaling up manufacturing.”