Fed up with the federal government’s ban of the traditional incandescent light bulb, state representatives in South Carolina are pushing for the state to produce and use incandescents solely for its state.
The Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act, which unanimously passed South Carolina’s Senate panel, would allow South Carolina manufacturers to continue to sell incandescent bulbs so long as they have “Made in South Carolina” on them and are sold only within the state. Other states have floated the idea, and last year Arizona passed a bill that would have done the same thing, but Governor Jan Brewer (R) vetoed the legislation.
Whether the legislation becomes law remains to be seen, and even if it does become law, lawsuits will likely ensue. Regardless, South Carolina’s efforts demonstrate the will to remove the federal government’s ability to restrict individual choice. If the compact florescent light bulb (CFL) is a better choice, consumers will make that choice without the government’s push.
The complaints of CFLs are fairly well known by now. Many consumers prefer the soft yellow lighting of incandescents to the unnatural, office-like white light of fluorescents. Other critics point out that CFLs do not work well in colder temperatures, so they emit less heat, forcing Americans to use their heaters more. Residents in houses with well-and-septic systems use the heat from incandescent bulbs to keep the water above freezing. Furthermore, CFLs do not work well with dimmer switches, and the lifespan of the bulb diminishes when turned off and on frequently.
And they’re more expensive. But that’s all right, says the Department of Energy, because they use less energy than incandescents and last longer. Although, as I mentioned on C-SPAN last week, studies have shown that the energy savings from CFLs aren’t as great as initially purported. California utilities have spent nearly $550 million to subsidize CFL bulbs for its consumers, and these utilities were eager to see what kind of savings they were getting to subsidize bulb purchases. It turned out that the savings weren’t nearly as high as the electric utility PG&E thought they would be. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported:
When it set up its bulb program in 2006, PG&E Corp. thought its customers would buy 53 million compact fluorescent bulbs by 2008. It allotted $92 million for rebates, the most of any utility in the state. Researchers hired by the California Public Utilities Commission concluded earlier this year that fewer bulbs were sold, fewer were screwed in, and they saved less energy than PG&E anticipated.
As a result of these and other adjustments, energy savings attributed to PG&E were pegged at 451.6 million kilowatt hours by regulators, or 73% less than the 1.7 billion kilowatt hours projected by PG&E for the 2006-2008 program.
One hitch was the compact-fluorescent burnout rate. When PG&E began its 2006-2008 program, it figured the useful life of each bulb would be 9.4 years. Now, with experience, it has cut the estimate to 6.3 years, which limits the energy savings. Field tests show higher burnout rates in certain locations, such as bathrooms and in recessed lighting. Turning them on and off a lot also appears to impair longevity.
This does not mean that CFLs won’t save consumers energy in the long run. But be wary of government bureaucrats telling you that you’ll save X dollars or save X amount of energy by buying a more efficient washing machine, air conditioner, vehicle, and other machine with energy-efficiency standards. My colleague David Kreutzer uses a personal example:
[My] 1993 Maytag dishwasher used nine gallons of hot water and took 84 minutes to clean a normal load of dishes. The current model Maytag dishwasher uses seven gallons of hot water and takes 120 minutes to clean a normal load of dishes. This increase to a two- to three-hour cycle is typical and is the result of efficiency mandates that are met by using fewer gallons of water with much longer cycle times.
The cost of two gallons of hot water is less than a dime. For many people, the additional cycle time of an energy-efficient dishwasher will be an inconvenience greatly exceeding the 10-cent savings. Some people would alter their behavior (sometimes washing their dishes by hand, for example), which could entirely offset these gains. However, the regulator’s calculation of savings ignores these costs. Markets, on the other hand, do not.
Furthermore, government mandates can reduce product performance and, most importantly, ignore the fact that consumers can make intelligent decisions on their own without the government forcing choices upon them.
Nicolas Loris is a Research Assistant at The Heritage Foundation . http://www.heritage.org/ Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Loris studies energy, environment and regulation issues such as the economic impacts of climate change legislation, a free market approach to nuclear energy and the effects of environmental policy on energy prices and the economy.