The Department of Energy has decided that certain light bulbs won’t have to show improved energy efficiency after all.
The department last week announced it intends to scrap plans for tougher efficiency rules that would have kicked in next year for a variety of bulb types, including reflector, globe-shaped, and candelabra lamps, according to a statement from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The new efficiency standards were to be the second stage of a process approved by Congress in 2007.
The announcement won’t affect tougher standards for A-type lamps — the familiar pear-shaped bulbs used in many lamps and fixtures. Those will have to meet the 2020 efficiency minimum of 45 lumens per watt as originally outlined.
The planned expansion of efficiency rules would have extended efficiency requirements to bulbs that are now in nearly 3 billion light sockets in the U.S., the ACEEE said, and pushed incandescent versions of those lamps off the shelves.
The dispute hinges on a definition of a “general service lamp.” Officials decided in 2017 that the list should include reflector lamps, small candelabras, three-way bulbs, and the globe lamps used in bathroom fixtures. That would make them subject to the 45 lumen-per-watt limit next year. The industry fought the decision.
The proposed rule says that DOE has determined that the legal basis for adding those lamps to a list requiring higher efficiency “misconstrued existing law.” The department has scheduled a public meeting on February 28 to discuss the plan and will be taking public comments for 60 days. (You can attend the hearing via webinar by registering here.)
Critics cite cost to consumers, increased power use
Efficiency advocates blasted the plan and said it would cost consumers roughly $100 per year in added electricity costs while pushing up power consumption in the U.S. by 80 billion kWh per year. That’s the combined electricity use in all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The move also would lead to more pollution from power plants.
Andrew deLaski, who heads the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said in an analysis last year that the standards as originally written would have saved consumers about $22 billion in 2025. Total electricity savings would have exceed 140 billion kWh that year.
“The rollback sought by manufacturers would potentially eliminate all savings from the 2020 standards, slowing the transition to energy-efficient lighting and hurting consumers and the economy,” deLaski wrote.
Writing for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Noah Horowitz said the change would cost consumers as much as $12 billion on their utility bills and mean an additional 34 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
“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,” Horowitz said in a blog.
Industry supports the change
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a trade group, said in a statement posted at its website that it had requested that the DOE review decisions it made in 2017 that would have broadened the definitions of bulbs to include a number of specialty types.
“NEMA argued that the inclusion of these specialty light bulbs in the definition of general service lamp was inconsistent with the text of the law and they were not ‘general service’ light bulbs,” the statement said. “Congress expressly stated these lamps were ‘not included’ in its definition of general service lamp.”
The group argued that the DOE plan is not actually rolling back any standards: “It is not legally possible to backslide from a point DOE could not legally stand upon in the first place,” it said. “To think otherwise would erode the rule of law and the primacy of Congress in establishing public policy.”
Also, NEMA said, consumers already get it and are switching to more efficient types of bulbs on their own. Shipments of general service LEDs topped compact fluorescent lamps and incandescent bulbs in the third quarter of 2017. By the third quarter of last year, LED lamps accounted for 65% of all general service shipments.
“NEMA estimates that approximately 75-77% of general service lamp sockets are occupied by general service LEDs and compact fluorescent lamps,” the statement said.
NEMA’s position is laid out in two blogs that review Congressional action on efficiency standards (they are available here and here). NEMA says that the 2017 rule adopted by DOE incorrectly applied to certain types of lamps.
“The DOE’s rule redefining general-service lamps was a regulatory expansion that relied upon an interpretation of Congress’s text that, in our view, can only be described as legally erroneous,” NEMA said.