Illumination Wars

Quietly making its way through California’s legislature, passing committee review and headed for a floor vote, is a law that is going to make incandescent lights illegal. Appalled by this draconian approach, and in-turn ridiculed by the radicals who support it, I have attempted to learn more about these lights that apparently I am going to be forced to use.

First of all, let’s price our alternatives: On the website I found standard 100 watt incandescent light bulbs for the whopping price of $.49 each. On the website, I found the 23 watt (equivalent in lumens to a 100 watt incandescent) bulbs for $7.99 each. And on the website, I found the 10 watt (equivalent in lumens to a 100 watt incandescent) bulbs, on sale, for $99.00 each.

The first thing these price differentials calls to mind is the hideous arrogance of our legislators and the special interests who support them. They are going to cram down our throats lighting that costs us 16x more for fluorescents vs. incandescents, and 200x more for LEDs vs. incandescents. Supposedly this is going to pay for itself over time because (1) incandescent bulbs wear out faster than fluorescents, and (2) there are significant energy savings. Well forget about the first argument – incandescent lighting has improved to the point where they hardly ever wear out – there is no way a fluorescent light is going to last 16x as long as an incandescent bulb. How often do you have to replace an incandescent lightbulb? In my home I think I have to replace maybe one every year or two – they last pretty near forever.

Last week I went to a lightbulb wholesaler in the Sacramento area to sample the lighting and ask some questions. I learned that some of my concerns – but not all – regarding the quality of fluorescent lighting were not valid. For example, it really is possible to purchase fluorescents that are nearly indistinguishable from incandescents. You can even purchase fluorescents that work with standard dimmer switches. You cannot, however, purchase the clear, candle-shaped fluorescent bulbs, and probably never will.

In responding to my earlier posts “Are Fluorescents Ready? ” and “Incandescent Power Grab” I took some criticism, with one commenter stating “of course GE’s website won’t promote the latest advanced fluorescents, they make too much on incandescents.” I asked the proprietors at the bulb wholesaler about this, and they laughed. In the real world, as I’d suspected, incandescents last nearly as long as fluorescents. Why on earth would these manufacturers want to sell incandescents when they can charge 16 times as much to sell fluorescents, and compliant knee-jerk legislatures will actually force people to buy them?

I then asked these people, who have been to some of the poorly publicized hearings on this legislation, who is behind it. They said the fluorescent manufacturers are pushing the legislation, backed up by California’s Public Utilities Commission, which is trying to reduce energy use in California. There is virtually no opposition, aside from a handful of Republicans who, like me, believe this is the wrong approach.

If energy is being used inefficiently, then tax energy use. That allows people to make their own decisions. If fluorescents are truly economically beneficial to the consumer, then their use will steadily escalate, as indeed is happening. To take away the option to use incandescents, particularly in applications where fluorescents may never offer an alternative, such as with certain decorative lighting, is a draconian approach and a bad precedent.

There are many areas of environmentalism today where the conventional wisdom could be tragically misguided. As we attempt to point out in Contrarian Environmentalism, New Environmentalism, Redefining Environmentalism, Supply Side Environmentalism, Radical Environmentalism, The Great Green Rage, and elsewhere, “There is an ideological struggle for the soul of environmentalism that anti-environmentalists don’t care about, and environmentalists barely grasp.”

The nonexistent debate over the looming mandate to ban incandescent lighting is just one salvo in this much broader clash of ideologies. But if this measure passes, and it probably will, don’t be surprised when next they will mandate flow restrictors on all shower heads, and ban lawns, and tell us what sorts of trees we can grow. And it won’t end there. When all we need in California is to use the revenues from a moderate tax on energy and water use to fund one $5.0 billion, nuclear powered desalinization plant in Southern California (ref. “Revisiting Desalinization”), every time the population increases by another five million people. It’s that easy.

5 Responses to “Illumination Wars”
  1. Lou says:

    A more realistic price point is $2 to $2.50 for a 60W to 100W CFL replacement. You can buy a four-pack of the 60W CFL replacement bulbs in Lowe’s for $7.99, for example.

    My wife and I have these “Bright Effects” bulbs throughout our house, except for a couple of 3-way CFL’s in our bedside lamps, and we love them. They produce very pure, clean light, no flicker, and no buzz, and we’ve yet to replace a single one since we moved into this house just over 3 years ago. We’re both extremely picky about light color, flicker, etc., so I can’t imagine someone finding fault with them on that basis.

    As for taxing instead of banning incandescents: No problem. The tax should be high enough to make up for the fact that people who choose incandescents are creating more GHG emissions that everyone will have to live with. Enough, for example, so that every incandescent bulb will produce enough revenue to give a low income household two free CFL’s, or offset several times the extra CO2 emissions.

  2. Ed Ring says:

    Lou: Thank you for your comment. In my opinion, it is misleading to equate electricity use with greenhouse gas. Why on earth are we promoting electric cars, if this is the case? And what incentive does anyone have to opt to pay a premium to their utility to purchase clean and renewable energy, or install a home photovoltaic array?

    The greenhouse gas argument is being overused. Look what’s happening to the tropical forests in the name of growing “carbon neutral” biofuel. Deforestation is accelerating, and environmentalists are looking the other way. It is a disaster. Beware of the greenhouse gas argument to justify anything and everything.

    The reality is we are not going to reduce greenhouse gasses enough to make a difference – and instead of asking the Chinese to clean up the particulates, etc., we are handing them something prohibitively expensive – eliminating CO2 emissions – that they will simply refuse to do. This sudden anti-CO2 mania reminds me of the fuel cell car fiasco – environmentalists demanded this ideal but technically impossible solution, delaying the introduction of electric cars by at least a decade.

    To the extent CO2 mania accelerates the cleanup of genuine air pollution – of which CO2 is not – it will be beneficial. To the extent CO2 mania destroys our rainforests and bestows tyranny upon the masses, it will be costly, if not catastrophic.

  3. Mike Adams says:

    It’s great that you’re covering this topic, Ed. I’m the founder of, and I do have to point out that your saying that incandescent light bulbs “last pretty near forever” isn’t accurate. They burn out very quickly: after about 1000 hours of use. In fact, manufacturers actually *design* them to burn out so that customers are forced to buy more. (Repeat revenue stream and all that.)

    I’ve just published a useful analysis of the Total Cost of Ownership of incandescent vs. LED lights at:

    There, you’ll see why incandescent lights are so expensive in the long run. Lighting your house with an incandescent light bulb is like driving a car that gets one mile per gallon.

    Many thanks,
    - Mike Adams

  4. Pascal Lafond says:

    I wanted to add on to a few points on compact florescents.

    Althought I like CFLs in general I noticed the following.
    - The colder it is outside the dimmer the CFL will be. I live in Winnipeg and we had a 2 week cold snap where tempature were close or below to -40 Celcius at night. My outdoor compact florecents did not even turn on. When the tempeture rised a bit they restarted working. My LED Christmas lights worked without problem all winter.
    - I bought an “instant on” CFL light for a pot lamp and it is located next to a regular indecent. From the begining, it never turned on quite as fast but after one year of use it is getting slower to turn on and flickers occasionally but the illumination looks identical.
    - For rural house owners the apparently the power fluctuates more and I was told this reduces the life of the bulb. Plus if there outside the wind will make them vibrate reducing the life even more.

  5. Pascal Lafond says:

    Correction on my previous post. The CFL mentioned in previous post only flickers occasionally when turning it on. Once it is on, it does not flicker.


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