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 www.bulbs.com I found standard 100 watt incandescent light bulbs for the whopping price of $.49 each. On the website www.homedepot.com, I found the 23 watt (equivalent in lumens to a 100 watt incandescent) bulbs for $7.99 each. And on the website www.ecoleds.com, 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.