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Mon, Jan. 20

Column | Rolling back lighting standards would put us in the dark

What is the simplest and quickest thing that Americans can do to lower their utility bills and fight the pollution causing climate change? Replace inefficient light bulbs with improved, energy-saving versions like LEDs.

However, the U.S. Department of Energy just proposed a rollback of lighting standards that will mean people in your state won’t be guaranteed millions of dollars in utility bill savings.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is taking comments until May 3 on this needless and harmful proposal. Members of Congress need to weigh in with DOE on this flawed plan that will hurt their constituents, who also can register opposition.

The average U.S. household has about 40 lighting sockets and nationwide, approximately 2 billion sockets have inefficient bulbs in them. That costs Americans billions of extra dollars on their utility bills and leads to millions of tons of needless pollution that triggers health issues like asthma and contributes to climate change.

How can we fix that? With better energy efficiency standards for light bulbs. But the Department of Energy is now trying to roll back scheduled energy-saving improvements envisioned for Jan. 1, 2020, in bipartisan legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush 12 years ago.

In short, the DOE wants to reverse course from just two years ago and now exclude common household bulbs used in 2.7 billion of America’s sockets: three-way bulbs, candelabra or flame-shaped bulbs, the reflector bulbs used in recessed can lighting, and the globe-shaped ones often used over our vanities.

There is less than a month left to formally comment on this rollback that will deny Americans a guaranteed $12 billion in annual savings, or about $100 per household, and avoid the need to generate 25 powerplants’ worth of electricity (enough to power all the households in New Jersey and Pennsylvania) – plus associated pollution equal to the annual carbon emissions from 7 million cars.

Not long ago, America’s lighting technology hadn’t changed since the days of Thomas Edison – and 90% of the electricity powering our everyday bulbs was being given off as heat rather than light. Remember those incandescent bulbs that were too hot to touch?

But 12 years ago, President George W. Bush signed bipartisan legislation to establish lighting energy efficiency standards. The plan was for an orderly transition to make our everyday pear-shaped light bulbs gradually more efficient in a two-part process. The first phase began in 2012 – and so far, the standards have saved U.S. consumers billions of dollars and reduced harmful climate-harming pollution.

The second tier is scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2020, and will take advantage of the huge leaps in lighting technology, particularly for LEDs. Setting a higher standard will mean manufacturers can’t sell inefficient bulbs like incandescents and halogens. It also means: U.S. consumers won’t be saddled with higher energy bills because their bulbs waste four to five times more energy than necessary; costs of more efficient bulbs will continue to decline; and their availability will increase. You may not have the opportunity to buy highly efficient bulbs like LEDs if a store doesn’t carry them, but standards ensure that choice.

The 2007 law also required the DOE to evaluate whether to add new types of bulbs to the standards – if such bulbs were already readily available on the market. After more than two years of work, the DOE in 2017 determined there were more efficient LED versions of four kinds of common bulbs: three-way, flame-shaped, reflector, and globe-shaped bulbs – and added them to the “scope” of the standards.

Rolling back that common-sense addition that will save people money with a better technology doesn’t make sense. Europe has already set standards to ban the incandescent and halogen versions of these bulbs. Under the DOE rollback, America could become the dumping ground for energy-wasting bulbs.

Why Do We Need Lighting Standards?

• The U.S. has often led the world in technological advances. We shouldn’t be stuck with light bulb technology largely invented by Thomas Edison in the 1870s. We need to go forward, not backward.

• Standards will ensure outdated/inefficient bulbs are no longer being sold.

• They create a level playing field for manufacturers/retailers who have invested and geared up for the new standards.

• They spur innovation throughout the lighting industry.

• Given that low-cost, energy-saving LED bulbs are already on the market in all shapes and light levels from a wide range of manufacturers, there’s no reason not to move forward with the 2020 standards.

• The new standards will effectively remove the most inefficient products from the market, helping to achieve greater cost savings and emissions reductions.

• They will create more U.S. jobs - the number of domestic LED jobs dwarfs the few hundred jobs remaining in the U.S. to produce incandescent and halogen bulbs. Most of these less-efficient bulbs sold in the United States are actually made in countries like China, Mexico, and Hungary.

• Why is this DOE working so hard to preserve ongoing sales in the U.S. of such an inefficient set of products? Nowhere else can our nation achieve such massive energy savings almost overnight where the new product uses four to six times less energy than the product it replaces.

LEDs cost a little more upfront but create big savings by using four times less energy and they last 10-25 years longer. They often can be found for $2 per bulb when purchased in a multi-pack, and can save consumers $50 to $150 in electricity costs over the lifetime of a single bulb.

Meanwhile, the DOE also is proposing changes to its Process Rule for setting efficiency standards, but they would add further delay and unnecessary red tape to the program that already is saving U.S. households, on average, $500 a year. In addition, it wants to let manufacturers develop the procedures for testing the efficiency of their own products, essentially putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Comments on this proposal close May 6.

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