Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Light Bulb Law Wars

Today's traditional incandescent light bulbs are being phased out, little by little, following a federal law enacted in 2007 that will take effect nationwide in 2012. The key word here is traditional.

The intent was to give manufacturers a push toward higher energy efficiency and have consumers replace hundreds of millions of energy-hog bulbs with energy-saver bulbs. Now that the deadline is drawing near, however, some consumers and lawmakers are not happy.

As the law now stands, 100 watt incandescent bulbs that use current technology will be the first to disappear from store shelves, to be replaced by--what? Contrary to some misperceptions, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are not mandated to replace any traditional light bulb.

A spokesman for the electrical manufacturers trade group explains: “Unfortunately, people do not yet understand this lighting transition, and mistakenly think they won’t be able to buy incandescent light bulbs . . . Incandescent light bulbs are not being banned, and the new federal energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs do not mandate the use of CFLs."

Light bulb manufacturers have been busy for the past four years, developing new technology for long-lasting, energy-saving bulbs. General Electric, for instance, developed the LED bulb shown above--priced at about $40 or so--to replace the traditional 40-watt incandescent. LEDs are one alternative to CFLs. Both CFLs and LED bulbs are much pricier than the ordinary light bulb. Although prices will come down over time as production expands, initial prices are sure to give buyers a case of sticker shock.

No wonder so many consumers are stockpiling cheap, traditional light bulbs just in case. Some legislators (state and federal) are protesting the switch, saying the government shouldn't be meddling in light bulb affairs.

And about the green angle: Because CFLs and other newer light bulbs shouldn't be tossed into household trash once they burn out, convenient and easy recycling must be arranged to ensure that products intended to save energy don't wind up polluting our planet.

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