End of an Era?

Future generations may read with amazement that there was once a time in America when people were allowed to select their own light bulbs without the choice being micromanaged by government. They will learn that that era ended in July 2011, when the effort to overturn the incandescent-bulb-ban failed in the House.

..if I were forced to choose the best lighting for residential overall, it would have to be incandescent. I feel that we as humans have had a deep connection to flame for many thousands of years. It’s almost like it’s in our DNA. It’s interesting that as time moves on, people are still drawn to sitting around the camp fire, a fireplace, even a barbecue. Think of a Yule log. It’s just that this particular quality of light is ingrained in us. You can even get a screen saver of log flames. Incandescents with their glowing filaments are a form of flame and are thus an extension of this inborn affinity that we have for fire.

–lighting designer Ed Cansino, quoted here

But it no longer matters what this lighting designer thinks, or what you think…neither you nor he will be allowed to exercise your own aesthetic preferences and make your own economic tradeoffs. All that matters is the opinion of the holders of political office.

And to what extent are the opinions of these officeholders based on actual knowledge and understanding? Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA), for example, defended the continuance of the bulb ban with these words: “There’s a point to this, and the point is, it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases we have to send out into our atmosphere. It reduces the amount of energy we have to think about importing from other countries.”

Does Markey know where electricity comes from? Very little of America’s electricity is produced in oil-fueled plants–the primary sources are natural gas, coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric. (See statistics on the mix here.) How many of the CongressCreatures who voted for the incandescent-bulb ban, how many of the newspaper editorialists, activists, etc. who supported it are actually aware of these facts? (It is likely that there is some indirect effect of electricity savings on oil consumption–i.e., less electrical demand means less consumption of natural gas means more people will switch their home heating from gas to oil. But these are long chains of causation involving fairly speculative econometrics, and I don’t think they’re what CongressCreatures and others have in mind when they talk about “phasing out incandescents to reduce dependence on foreign oil.”) To what extent was the bulb-ban legislation actually based on knowledge and thought versus fad-following and lobbying? I think the answer is pretty clear.

To be precise, the law which goes into effect in 2012 does not technically ban incandescents nor does it mandate CFLs–it establishes efficiency standards which standard incandescents are unable to meet. There are some companies selling and developing higher-efficiency incandescents, and these lamps and/or advanced LEDs may…for a price…be able to give you something like traditional incandescent lighting quality. Until Markey and his friends decide to change the rules again.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, some European governments taxed windows, resulting in many buildings being constructed with minimal window area and, in some cases, existing windows actually being bricked up. Now, after a lapse of several centuries, governmental interference with light has returned.

An interesting blog focused on lighting here

And some thoughts on the ban from Rich Lowry

11 thoughts on “End of an Era?”

  1. I like halogen lighting and they have come a long way with those and they have also come a ways with the spectrums of CFLs although they are expen$ive. Full disclosure – I have two full cases of incandescents in my basement.

    Isn’t this sort of a tax on poor people as well? If you can’t get a cheap .99 incandescent to screw into your light socket, you have to shell out $8 or $10 for a CFL. This is no big deal to many, but to some it probably is.

  2. The ban will end when Congress is taken over by Republicans in 2013. The window taxation practice was also prevalent in the colonies and explains many of the tiny windows in colonial era houses.

    I also have a case of 100 watt incandescents and plan to get more before January.

    No one should expect Congress critters or reporters to understand anything concerned with science. That is why the global warming hysteria has been so damaging.

  3. The arrogance is remarkable even for this crew. At the same time the bulb ban seems likely to generate a significant political counter-reaction.

  4. How long will the politicians be able to keep their paws off OTHER home electrical devices? I mentioned before that an electric oven uses something like 2KWH for a 1-hour cooking session; this is as much electricity as 4 incandescent bulbs (100W) use over 5 hours. Microwaves ovens use much less. Surely we will soon be seeing demands to limit traditional cooking, along with recipes proving that microwave cooking is REALLY just as good. There will, of course, be exceptions for the homes of politicians and government officials, since any entertaining they do is a matter of “public service.”

    The air conditioning guy just stopped by to diagnose a minor problem. I asked him how much power the unit consumed, and he guessed that the compressor would draw about 30A at 240 volts, ie 7.2KW. The nameplate confirms that this is about right. Of course, the compressor doesn’t run *all* the time, unless it’s very hot…so maybe we can estimate 10 hours times 8KW (adding a little for fan motors) time 50% running time, which equals 40KWH per day. That is as much as 80 incandescent bulbs operating 5 hours each. Will the politicians, regulators, “greens,” and smart-grid-pushing companies be able to resist the temptation to take control of your thermostat?

  5. “Will the politicians, regulators, “greens,” and smart-grid-pushing companies be able to resist the temptation to take control of your thermostat?” Well, the answer is already no to that one. The mandated 13 SEER minimum for residential central air efficiencies that went into effect years ago was a complete and total joke to us here in the northern climes, as we use our A/C maybe two or three months out of the year TOPS. This move in the sake of energy efficiency shot up the initial cost of having an A/C installed by a bunch because to get those higher SEER ratings you need larger coils which means more raw materials which means more money. In addition, you cannot simply replace an outdoor unit anymore – due to the laws of physics and thermo dynamics (which CongressCritters haven’t yet figured a way around) you must replace the indoor section when replacing an outdoor section since we jumped from 10 SEER to 13 – this also costs more people more money.

    Of course we now have “Dry” R22 units flooding the marketplace and companies are putting in new 13 SEER units on old indoor sections with regularity (there will be future warranty claims) but that is a different subject.

  6. Will the politicians, regulators, “greens,” and smart-grid-pushing companies be able to resist the temptation to take control of your thermostat?

    It is law in California (where else ?) and people are having their electric meters replaced with “smart meters” already. The remote control thermostat bill, I think, did not pass but the smart meter will do a similar job during the coming brownouts.

  7. This fight is hardly over. The attempt to change the law was brought up under a rule that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. (And no, I don’t know why they did that, speed perhaps.) The Republican leadership did get a majority, but not two-thirds.

    They plan to bring it up again, under a rule that does not require two-thirds.

  8. “The ban will end when Congress is taken over by Republicans in 2013.”

    Maybe, maybe not. The manufacturers, having spent a bloody fortune on this idiocy will fight repeal. Remember, that Imelt of GE is Hussein’s pegboy.

  9. Light bulbs for GE is small potatoes. The light bulb issue will be a bit like alcohol in Minnesota. Dangerous to get on the wrong side of. Democrat voters may not “know much about history” but light bulbs and alcohol they understand. I doubt that 5% of them know about the coming ban. They will in 2012, though.

  10. It doesn’t matter what congress does. The plants have been closed, and the machinery cleared from the factory floor. GE in Nela Park near Cleveland shut down. Don’t know for sure if the whole plant closed.
    The only place you will be able to get a 100W bulb is likely to be overseas, Romania seemingly the most likely source.
    So, the jobs are gone, never to return. Good job!


  11. If you wish to keep on reading and seeing by good old Edison-type filament lamps, all you have to do is take up auto-engineering for a hobby!

    If your government is as daft as the one we have over in Europe, they will have built something in to the legislation which allows for the purchase and use of ‘Rough Service’ lamps in workshops, mainly because the fancy-pants flourescent ones cannot stand being bounced around. So follow the link , and then find an american alternative to the link given!

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