Opinion

Incandescent Lighting Transition – Six Month Update

One of the most upsetting policies that rolled out in 2014 was the onset of performance standards for 40- and 60-watt general purpose incandescent lightbulbs as mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).  For those who don’t know or don’t remember, over a three-year period EISA mandated a 30% efficiency increase for general purpose incandescent lighting:  100-watt bulbs were to transition on January 1, 2012; 75-watt bulbs on January 1, 2013; and 40- and 60-watt bulbs on January 1, 2014.  According to market data assembled by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and others, the 40- and 60- watt varieties of incandescent bulb were the most popular on the market.

Misunderstood by consumers, misrepresented in the media, and mischaracterized by politicians, the peaceful transitions of the previous two years were overcome this year by the brouhaha that developed.  As the leading trade association for the lighting industry, NEMA fielded dozens of media inquiries and interview requests over a four-month period, and offered comments or corrections to dozens more who hadn’t sought our input.

Prior to the transition for 100-watt bulbs, in late 2011, a number of elected officials in Washington (the same body that passed the EISA in the first place) became concerned about the impact on consumers.  To protect the consumer’s interest in incandescent lighting, instead of repealing the efficiency standard, an amendment was crafted that would not allow the U.S. Department of Energy to provide any kind of enforcement over the impacted bulbs.  This amendment was renewed in both 2012 for the 75-watt bulbs and again last year for the 40- and 60-watt bulbs.  While this amendment was crafted with good intentions, it’s only possible impact at this point would be to harm American manufacturers.

From the time EISA was passed in 2007, the lighting manufacturers in NEMA took the law to heart.  They had no idea that the enforcement ban would be put in place so they did the only logical thing – they retooled their factories and manufacturing processes to make bulbs that comply with the law.  As a result, the later ban on enforcement only served to open the door for unscrupulous manufacturers and the small cadre of discount retailers who sell them.

While preparing for this column I took the opportunity to visit a number of home improvement chains, big box retailers, grocery stores, and local discount vendors in and around my neighborhood to check out the bulbs they had on display.  This included a variety of national retailers whose names we all would recognize from their television ads and/or their sponsorship of NASCAR teams.  It should be noted that this was a wholly unscientific endeavor and does not constitute a market survey program.  It was just one guy, walking the aisles, trying to spot bulbs that didn’t comply with the law based on the notation on the packaging.  (Non-complaint bulbs simply list the wattage and not a lighting equivalency as required by the EISA product labeling section.)

By and large, I discovered that the lighting options on the shelf were EISA compliant.  There were very few exceptions, an observation that seemed reasonable given that the transition period allows retailers to sell any bulbs that were manufactured prior to January 1, 2014.  What’s more, I was not able to spot any non-compliant bulbs of the 100-watt variety (transitioned in 2012) and only a couple of non-compliant 75-watt bulbs.

At the time of the transition, we predicted that the outrage would subside by midyear.  As the months passed, consumers were able to witness for themselves that 40- and 60-watt bulb alternatives were not only on the shelves but also reasonably priced.  Contrary to the rhetoric of the opponents, consumer lighting choices were barely affected.  Stories of people hoarding incandescent bulbs emerge from time to time, but they are usually met with the same response:  why?

In July, Congress announced they would again consider the enforcement ban for incandescent lighting.  At this point, however, we really have to wonder why?  If the manufacturers have converted, retailers are complying, and consumers have accepted the change, what is the point?  A ban on enforcement only serves to punish the lawful and reward the lawless.  Is that really the course we want to pursue?

 

Paul Molitor serves as an Assistant Vice President for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association in Rosslyn, Virginia.  On behalf of the 400-plus member companies in NEMA, he is responsible for interfacing with other non-government organizations, electrical utilities, state and federal agencies, the U.S. Congress, international bodies, and foreign governments on all activities and products in the NEMA scope.

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