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How many light bulbs does it take to change U.S. energy consumption? An efficiency bill in Congress could include a plan to phase out the incandescent light bulb. It's one of the energy saving proposals that have efficiency advocates wondering if the United States is finally seeing the light on conservation. Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports from Washington.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.
Six years ago, when Vice President Dick Cheney tried to solve the energy problem he came down on the production side of the equation more oil and more gas. As for conserving energy, Cheney dismissed that as, “a sign of personal virtue” a nice gesture, perhaps but no basis for national policy. Well, times, prices and attitudes even among some in the Bush administration have changed. As Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports officials are now calling for cuts in the consumption of oil and gas and there’s talk in Washington of new efficiency standards for autos, appliances even light bulbs.
YOUNG: We know all the jokes: How many so and so’s does it take to change a light bulb. Well, turns out we’ve had the question backwards: it should be How many
light bulbs does it take to change us and our energy wasting economy?
CALLAHAN: If every home in America switched out just one incandescent
bulb with a compact fluorescent it would be the equivalent in CO2 savings of
a million cars off the road for a year. Just one light bulb!
YOUNG: That’s Kateri Callahan at the Washington think tank Alliance to Save Energy getting excited about something that most consider pretty dull: energy efficiency. And she’s right: the numbers are exciting. If we changed all four billion of the country’s sockets to more efficient lighting it could save 10 billion dollars in electricity costs a year. And it would eliminate the need for 50 coal-fired power plants. That’s why Callahan’s alliance is part of a negotiating team with lighting industry leaders Phillips, GE, and Sylvania to craft federal law that would make the switch.
CALLAHAN: We’re working hard to try to develop technology neutral standard that’ll get most inefficient, that cheap, 25 cent light bulb off the market.
YOUNG: All sides agree in principle that it’s time for lighting standards to change. But there are some sticking points: chiefly, which products would be affected and how many years it would take. Australia’s already announced a phase-out of incandescent bulbs in five years and Canada’s working on a similar proposal. California’s moving toward doing it. If other states follow, the industry could face a hodge podge of different standards. Richard Upton of the American Lighting Association says that motivates industry to seek a national law.
UPTON: Because we’re talking about interstate commerce and to have 50 different kinds of ideas and regulations and labeling requirements all of a sudden becomes something that business and industry can’t respond to very well; and that’s more confusion for consumers. So working to get a federal bill makes the greatest sense to me.
YOUNG: Upton says some consumers are already buying more efficient lighting, mostly the compact fluorescents known as CFL’s. But Noah Horowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council says most people won’t buy them as long as the cheaper but wasteful bulb is on the shelf.
HOROWITZ: People just look at first cost and they’re overlooking a very critical thing. That four pack of CFL’s will save you $100 over the life of the bulbs and in addition they last ten times longer. So about 90% of sockets still have incandescent in this country and we’re probably going to require a standard to help shift that.
YOUNG: The light bulb sheds light on larger issues with efficiency: the vast potential for energy savings and the vexing problems in achieving them.
PRINDLE: Oh yeah, energy efficiency is the invisible man of energy policy.
YOUNG: That’s Bill Prindle at the American council for an energy efficient economy. Prindle says the country’s staring at a three-headed hydra of energy threats: national security, high prices and climate change. That’s sparked interest in cleaner sources. But Prindle says even the most optimistic outlook for renewable energy barely keeps pace with our growing energy appetite.
PRINDLE: You know, we’ve got to have more moderate demand growth if any of our great ideas for clean energy, be it solar, wind, biomass—any of those energy sources we’re gonna have a hard time keeping up with demand if we don’t get aggressive on efficiency.
YOUNG: Prindle says one of the best tools is something called the energy efficiency resource standard. It requires utilities to wring waste from energy production and reduce consumer demand through incentives for more efficient appliances, heating and the like. Several states have adopted it. He’d like to see the energy bill that the US Senate’s working on include one, too. Senate energy chair Jeff Bingaman says it’s the direction the country should be moving but probably works best at the state level.
BINGAMAN: Well, I think frankly there are some complications in it when we start trying to legislate it nationally. I think that what we’re probably going to end up with is some things to encourage and incentivize more states to do this.
YOUNG: Bingaman’s bill includes new standards and appliances that could bring big energy savings. And if the light negotiators reach agreement in time he’ll make phasing out the incandescent bulb part of the bill, too. Another bill cooking in Congress could raise fuel efficiency for autos for the first time in decades. And the National Academy of Sciences just issued a statement calling on the US to push energy efficiency at the upcoming G8 summit of economic world powers as a way to combat climate change. Add those up and you understand why Kateri Callahan at the alliance to save energy is so excited.
CALLAHAN: I think that folks are finally getting it; that we can use energy efficiency as the cornerstone of sustainable energy future policy. I mean that has to be there.
YOUNG: The US, which consumes more energy per person than any other country, could finally be seeing the light on conservation.
For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.
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