Energy adviser: Light bulb law has a bright side



When is a ban not a ban? When it has to do with swapping out power-hungry light bulbs for more energy-efficient ones. Incandescent bulbs weren’t banned — if you have them, you can use them. They just can’t be manufactured or imported any more without meeting the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requirements.

The intent of EISA is to push the United States toward increased energy independence by removing energy-gobbling products from the market. Shifting to more energy-efficient light bulbs may seem a trivial step. But put in a national context, it makes more sense. In the Northwest, we’re lucky, because most of our energy comes from renewable hydropower. Other areas of the country, however, still rely on nonrenewable resources — oil, gas or, most often, coal — for the bulk of their power.

Utilities buy 90 percent of the coal in the nation. In 2012, coal generated 37 percent of the country’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Thirty percent of U.S. carbon pollution comes from coal-fired electricity. Making coal-fired generators cleaner helps the environment at the production end. Energy saving products help at the consumer end. It takes both.

Jan. 1 this year, 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs joined the list of bulbs that can no longer be manufactured in or imported to the U.S. The 75- and 100-watt are already off the market.

“When energy was cheap, energy-wasting products weren’t an issue,” said Matthew Babbitts, residential program manager for Clark Public Utilities. “Today both energy and environmental costs are higher. Five to 10 percent of a household’s utility bill goes to lighting so products that save energy, including light bulbs, are increasingly in demand.”

Part of the law, which will go into effect in 2020 requires incandescent light bulbs to be 60 to 70 percent more efficient than previous incandescent bulbs. Some manufacturers are already selling some EISA-compliant energy-saving incandescent bulbs in addition to new compact fluorescent light bulb and light-emitting diode technologies.

“One of the big changes for consumers is to shift their thinking from watts to lumens,” Babbitts said. Watts and lumens are two different ways to measure a light’s energy. A watt measures the power used. A lumen measures the visible light given off. An incandescent 60-watt bulb produces 800 lumens. An Energy Star-certified 15-watt CFL or LED bulb produces the same number of lumens at an energy savings of 75 percent.

According to the Department of Energy, using an Energy Star LED or CFL costs about $1 a year to power on average. Over its lifetime, a 60-watt equivalent CFL can save you up to $52. An LED can save you from $100 to $400 over its longer lifetime.

One downside of CFLs and LEDs is higher initial cost to purchase, compared to older incandescents, although prices are declining and the newer bulbs last longer.

Another downside — CFLs must be recycled. In 2013, a new law passed in Washington requiring manufacturers of CFL bulbs to pay for state-run recycling programs for their products. LEDs you can toss in the trash.

The light bulb law though won’t change the recycling options much for Clark Public Utilities customers. “For years our customers have been able to bring burned-out CFL bulbs in to any of our locations for recycling and receive a new one free for each bulb turned in, up to six,” Babbitts said. “We continue to offer this service so if you have any burned-out CFLs we encourage you to bring them in to be recycled and get your free bulbs.”

To figure out how much lighting swaps could save you on your monthly bill, Babbitts suggests the free home energy calculator tools on the Clark Public Utilities website.

Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.