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DOE Lighting Rollback Proposal Will Cost Consumers Billions

The U.S. Department of Energy’s proposal to dramatically narrow the scope of light bulbs covered by the upcoming federal 2020 energy efficiency standards will cost consumers up to $12 billion on their utility bills and cause up to 25 more coal burning power plants’ worth of electricity to be generated every year. This extra electricity use, enough to power all the households in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, translates into 34 million tons of additional climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions each year.

DOE’s new proposal rolls back most of the definition that was previously updated in early 2017 by DOE under the Obama administration, and needlessly provides a lifeline for the inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs designed to go into 2.7 billion sockets—just under half of all conventional sockets in the United States—even though more energy-efficient models exist today. Now, instead of the energy-wasting versions being phased out as scheduled, three-way bulbs, reflector bulbs used in recessed cans and floodlights, candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers and sconces, and round globe bulbs typically used in bathroom lighting fixtures would be exempt from the federal standards that require all general-service lamps (GSLs, the regulatory term for everyday light bulbs) to meet a minimum efficiency limit of 45 lumens per watt (LPW) by January 1, 2020. Lumens are the amount of light produced, and watts the amount of power used.

The 45-LPW standard essentially prohibits the future sale of incandescents and halogens because they cannot meet this minimum efficiency level. Instead, consumers will choose between efficient, long-lasting CFLs and LED bulbs as of January 1, 2020. Consumers are likely to purchase LEDs because of their superior performance.

But if the bulbs going into almost half of America’s light sockets are now excluded from the 2020 efficiency standards because they are not part of the general-service light bulb definition, a huge amount of money and energy will be wasted. It adds up to annual lost savings of $12 billion in 2025 alone.

And if this revised definition is adopted, the United States will be positioned to become the world’s dumping ground for inefficient light bulbs, as they have already been phased out throughout Europe and elsewhere, with similar phaseouts planned in many developing countries.

The announcement was made within hours of Daniel Simmons being sworn in as the new assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which administers energy efficiency standards. DOE didn’t stop there, however, as the agency today also issued a separate proposal to change its Process Rule, which would make it harder for DOE to update or set new energy efficiency standards for any product in the future, whether it be a refrigerator, hot water heater, or air conditioner. The proposal sets up all sorts of barriers designed to slow progress and compromise the highly successful standards program that saves the average household more than $500 on their energy bills every year. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made essentially no progress on efficiency standards for appliances and equipment since taking office in early 2017. The DOE is required by law to review standards within a set time frame, and yet it has missed 16 deadlines for energy-saving standards, plus many more for test procedures.

Why LEDs Are Far Superior

The old incandescent light bulbs are so inefficient that up to 90 percent of the energy they use is wasted as heat. They get so hot you can burn yourself when you touch one. LEDs, on the other hand, are extremely efficient in the way they produce light. In fact, you can replace an old 60-watt incandescent light bulb with an LED bulb that only uses 10 watts but produces the same amount of light. Today’s LED bulbs are available in the same shapes as the incandescent and halogen bulbs they replace, making them a perfect drop-in substitute.

LED bulbs produce the same quality of light, turn on instantly, are dimmable, and last 10 to 25 years under normal operation of three hours per day, compared with just one to two years for most incandescents and halogens. They’re also available in a range of colors—from the “warm” yellowish-white light many of us associate with incandescent bulbs to the “cooler” bluish-white light of some newer bulbs—so LED users are sure to find a bulb that meets their needs and tastes.

Due to their superior energy efficiency and longer life, LED bulbs are extremely cost effective. Each LED bulb can save consumers between $50 and $100 over its lifetime compared with the equivalent incandescent or halogen. Plus, the consumer avoids the hassle and cost of having to replace the bulb every year.

An Energy-Saving LED for Virtually Every Socket

LED light bulbs are widely available in an assortment of shapes and light outputs from a variety of manufacturers. Below are sample images of the new LED bulbs and the inefficient bulbs they replace.

Reflector Bulbs

There are roughly 1 billion sockets in the United States today that contain a reflector bulb. These include track lighting and the increasingly popular recessed cans, also known as downlights, in new and remodeled homes. Drop-in LED replacements are widely available in all the same shapes, light outputs, and beam angles. The LED model shown below uses 7 watts instead of the 65-watt incandescent version.

 

7-W LED reflector bulb that replaces the 65-W incandescent version

Round Globe Bulbs 

DOE’s scope rollback would allow the ongoing sale of inefficient round globe incandescent bulbs. There is nothing different about these bulbs other than the shape of the enclosure, being round instead of pear-shaped like the most common bulbs. One can easily imagine consumers picking this bulb for their fixtures (due to the product’s slightly lower purchase price) instead of the LED, if the pear-shaped incandescent is no longer available. The LED replacement for a 60-watt incandescent globe bulb only uses 6 or so watts.

60-W round globe incandescent bulb that could become exempt from the 45-LPW standard, and which could easily fit in lots of sockets around the home

Candelabra/Flame Bulbs

Chandeliers can easily contain six or more candle/flame-shaped bulbs. These bulbs, termed candelabra bulbs, have a narrow or medium screw base, and the incandescent version typically uses 25, 40, or 60 watts of power, depending on its brightness. But energy-efficient LED replacement bulbs that last 10 to 25 times longer are widely available from a broad range of manufacturers in a variety of styles.

 

Multiple examples of candle and flame-shaped LED bulbs from various manufacturers. Note they use only 4 watts, instead of 40 watts.

Three-Ways

While three-way bulbs are not that common today, their sales could easily skyrocket once the 45-LPW standard for conventional pear-shaped A-lamps goes into effect in 2020. Consumers who are looking for roughly the same amount of light as their old 60-W or 100-W incandescent or equivalent halogen bulb could simply buy a three-way incandescent. And these can be purchased for less than $1 on the web today. Three-way LED replacement bulbs are now widely available, and while they cost a bit more to purchase, they use a fraction of the energy and have a payback of less than a year.

 

LED and incandescent versions of three-way light bulbs

DOE Can Still Do the Right Thing

The facts are clear and unambiguous—long-lasting, energy-saving bulbs already exist for the types of bulbs DOE proposes to exempt from the regulations, which could cost our nation up to $300 billion in cumulative lost utility bill savings by 2050. It would be outrageous if DOE and the Trump administration adopt this gutted definition of light bulbs and deny consumers the benefits of commonsense standards that will ensure a money-saving, energy-efficient bulb for every socket in the nation. This is a rollback that no one can afford.

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