Light Bulb Shopping Guide for Representative Barton
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this week on Representative Joe Barton’s BULB Act (H.R. 2417), which would repeal the national energy efficiency standards for light bulbs enacted in 2007. In his rush to roll back energy efficiency standards, Rep. Barton has gotten his facts mixed up. He seems to think that the new standards ban incandescent light bulbs. They don’t. He also seems to have the mistaken belief that new, efficient bulbs are a bad deal for consumers.
Representative Barton spends a lot of time around the Washington D.C. area, which is where I also live. So I decided to do some shopping this past weekend to help him find the efficient light bulbs and start saving money. Hopefully this shopping guide will help him get his facts straight.
Efficient incandescent bulbs meet the new standards.
Rep. Barton said in an interview he gave last month on energyNow! that he wants to repeal the standards because they are a ban on incandescent light bulbs, which would require consumers to purchase higher priced compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) that take a long time to pay for themselves through efficiency savings.
The incandescent bulb, however, is not banned – it’s just getting better. Incandescent bulbs meeting the standards that go into effect this January are already available in stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. These bulbs look, illuminate and turn on like the traditional incandescent bulbs that have changed little over the past 125 years. But they are 28-33 percent more efficient. Below are pictures of several of the 72 watt (W) efficient incandescent bulbs, which produce light equivalent to conventional 100W incandescent bulbs. You can buy these efficient light bulbs in stores now.
Efficient incandescent bulb nets $1.69 in savings.
During my shopping trip, I found a Philips 72W efficient incandescent bulb for $1.50 at Home Depot. The 100W bulb was cheaper – it was just 31 cents.  Both bulbs are rated to last 1000 hours, or about 18 months at 2 hours per day. But, the electricity I’ll save with the more efficient bulb covers my extra up front cost in just seven months.  For the remaining 11 months the product operates, I’m making money. Altogether, I figured my total cost (bulb plus electricity) with the conventional bulb is $10.59 while my total cost for the efficient incandescent is just $8.90. The bottom line: I make $1.69 by going with the efficient incandescent. This is a great deal for consumers, and looks even better when you consider that more efficient bulbs mean decreased need for power plants, which emit air pollution that harms people’s health and the environment.
Savings from CFLs are even greater.
Even though the new standards do not require anyone to buy a CFL, consumers who make that choice will save even more money. Rep. Barton believes that CFLs are so high-priced that it takes buyers a long time to recoup the additional up-front cost through lower energy bills. In a Politico story last week, he said:
"I bought a 60 watt CFL [compact fluorescent light] bulb last night at Giant for $6 and I bought four 60-watt incandescents for 37.5 cents a piece, four for a buck and a half,” Barton said. “It takes a long time to make up efficiency when it's an 18 to 1 outlay up front."
Rep. Barton needs to check the prices at Giant again and his math.
I found a 13W CFL (equivalent to a 60W incandescent bulb) for $2.11 at a Giant in Northern Virginia last weekend. Home Depot in Northern Virginia has even better prices – they sell a 14W Ecosmart CFL (equivalent to 60W) that lasts 10,000 hours for $1.46. As with the efficient incandescents, CFLs cost more than the 31-cent conventional incandescent, but they pay back their extra cost through lower electric bills even more quickly. It takes just 2 months to pay back the extra up-front cost of the 14W Ecosmart CFL, which is certainly not “a long time to make up efficiency.” CFLs also last much longer than regular light bulbs (6,000 to 10,000 hours vs. 1,000 hours). My total cost (bulb plus electricity) for 10,000 hours of light with the 14W Ecosmart CFL would be $15.85. My total cost (bulbs plus electricity) with conventional light bulbs would be $64.78. So, my net savings are almost $50 with the CFL.
But don’t take it from an amateur shopper like me. The expert shoppers at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumers Reports magazine, found very similar results, which are described here.
National savings add up.
Of course, the costs and savings from a single light bulb are not big dollars. But, with more than 4 billion sockets in the U.S., the savings from the new standards really add up for the nation. Once the light bulb efficiency standards are fully implemented, consumers will save more than $12 billion per year (including more than $1 billion in Rep. Barton’s home state of Texas.) An average household will save $85, which is like getting one month of electricity free, every year.
If Rep. Barton’s attempt to repeal these standards is rebuffed, all light bulb shoppers are going to be saving money and that’s good news for our economy, health, and environment.
*Thanks to Andrew deLaski of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project for his assistance with this blog.
 Formula to determine payback period: (price of 72W bulb – price of 100W bulb)/((cents per kWh electric rate * average usage of bulb * 0.10kW) – (cents per kWh electric rate * average usage of bulb *0.072kW)). Inputs for formula: average Virginia electric rate of $10.28 per kWh (Electric Power Monthly, Energy Information Administration, Table 5.6.A. (June 2011)); average usage of bulb of 693.5 hours (“U.S. Lighting Market Characterization,” Navigant study commissioned by U.S. Dept. of Energy, p.40, Table 5-10 (2002)). Completed payback formula: ($1.5-$0.31)/(0.1028kWh*693.5hours per year *0.10kW) – (0.1028kWh*693.5hours per year*0.072kW) = 0.595 years *12 mos. per year = 7 months.
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