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Lights out

Once again, the government’s attempts to fix “problems” they are incapable of fixing will screw us, the consumer. The latest energy bill has a provision to ban incandescent light bulbs. From the Chicago Tribune

“In this bill, we ban by 2012 the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent bulb,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who co-sponsored that provision.

In the name of fixing the energy “crisis” Congress is interfering with consumer choice and the market’s self regulation. Not only will consumers be forced into purchasing more expensive light bulbs, but in this case, banning a particular technology can interfere with some people’s paths to manage their energy usage themselves.

Several years ago, I found interest in home automation products. X10 technology products have been around for decades and are an affordable way to remotely control lights and appliances in your house. In the past few years, inexpensive computer-based programmable controllers have come on the market, which allow you to control your lights by remote control, timers, dusk/dawn timetables, and even motion sensors. The benefit to doing this is that you’re managing your energy usage where it makes the biggest impact – being able to turn a light on only when you need it, and off when you don’t. Leaving a light on when you’re not in the room, regardless of the energy usage of the bulb, is wasting electricity. Of course, people feel that impact in their energy bills, which is one of the reasons that higher-efficiency bulbs have started doing well on the market in recent years. People that can’t be bothered to turn their lights off when they’re not using them can buy a bulb that lets them waste less electricity.

The issue here for me, and for all the other people who have invested in these types of products, is that many of the devices will only function with a light bulbs that provides a solid conductor path from one wire in your electric cable to the other. Incandescent bulbs provide this by way of the filament. Fluorescent bulbs, CFLs, and halogens don’t, and therefore the devices won’t operate. Controllers that will work with those types of bulbs are currently 3-4 times more expensive and have more downsides, such as not being dimmable, which is an added feature you get when using lighting controllers. Converting over all my existing lamp modules and wall switches would cost hundreds of dollars.

There are other ramifications of forcing people to use CFLs. You’ll have to learn a little about color temperature, otherwise that couch that you absolutely love the color of may not look quite the same if you pick up, say, a 3500K bulb instead of a 2700K bulb. You’ll have to be extra careful if you break one, since all CFL’s contain mercury. Be sure to leave the light on for at least 15 minutes, otherwise you might prematurely cause it to burn out. If it does, no worries since Energy Star labeled CFLs have a [mandated] two year warranty, and everyone loves making warranty claims for a $2 light bulb. Oh, and if you have a lot of dimmers, make sure you read the fine print and buy dimmable ones [at $10-$15 a piece] or you’ll be making a lot of those warranty claims. So, while it cost you about $2.50 to fill that six bulb chandelier in your dining room on the dimmer switch, you can thank Congress for the $60 replacement bill.

I have no problem with people choosing to buy CFLs if it makes sense to them, but to mandate a more expensive, more limiting, basic needs product is insane. As energy prices go up, demand will go up, and eventually costs will come down. The same thing is driving the adoption of hybrid cars, not government regulations and CAFE standards.

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  1. I agree with you, particularly since the type of light produced by most of these CFLs is awful. I have dimmers throughout most of my home and even in my garage and basement. The article you linkied referred to new devices such as “energy-saving incandescent bulbs”. Hopefully, these will work with your “smart-house” set-ups and also with dimmers. I doubt there will be much in the way of savings to the individual, considering the cost of good bulbs. I have CFLs in several places through the house – in places where the quality or tone of the light isn’t an issue. Generally, they aren’t appealing to me.

    To paraphrase, “they can take my dimmers when they pry them from my cold, dead hands”.

    Also.. So far, much of what I have seen and heard about this most recent Energy Bill sucks, particularly the humping that alternative energy sources was given. Wouldn’t want to lose any advantages for Big Oil, though.

  2. It really galls me when the government limits the ability of the free-market to develop innovative and beneficial solutions by imposing self-serving regulations. Interesting point about the affect on X10 products, I’ve been using them for years and didn’t give that a thought until now. Perhaps it is time to stock up on incandescent bulbs.

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