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Energy: Light bulb stockpiles grow on eve of phase-out

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A regular customer at Pawleys Island Supplies recently went in and bought eight cases of incandescent light bulbs in preparation for the day when they won’t be readily available on store shelves.

“He said ‘I’ve got to have them. It’s not that I’m not for environmental protection, but I like these,’ ” recalled Jennifer Brown, a co-owner of the store, which sits on the North Causeway.

For the last several months, she has heard customers talking about the pending phase-out of the old-fashioned bulbs and a need to stock up. “Somebody comments on it at least once or twice a week,” she said.

And they’ll probably continue to do so for many months to come.

Rules eliminating the manufacture of 100-watt incandescent bulbs that don’t meet energy efficiency standards were supposed to go into effect with the new year. But late last week the bulbs and their fans declared a victory when congressional negotiators struck a deal that blocks the Department of Energy from spending any money to implement or enforce the new rules until fall. The deal was part of a spending bill passed during efforts to avert a government shutdown.

The action has groups for limited government cheering, but they aren’t the only ones. Political views aside, some people, such as the customer mentioned by Brown, just like traditional bulbs better than the more expensive, more energy efficient compact fluorescent lights – also called CFLs or “swirls” for their spiral shape.

Incandescent lights regularly outsell CFLs at Palmetto Ace Hardware, said Andy Guyton, the store manager.

“I think a lot of it is just lack of knowledge,” he said. “People don’t want change, but once they know about them, they want them.”

But he has heard some customers talking about needing to stock up on traditional bulbs.

Vitor Almeida, maintenance manager for Pawleys Island Realty, which also has a property management arm, said he knows lots of homeowners who don’t like CFLs.

“In my experience, half the time they don’t really last as long as they predict and they cost a whole lot more,” he said of the lights. “We have a few green people who will ask for the CFLs, but a lot of homeowners want the incandescent bulbs because they don’t like to spend the extra money and they seem to last as long if not longer,” he said.

He had to replace CFLs in his office twice last year, whereas incandescents usually get replaced once a year, he added. In his position he usually orders 200 to 300 incandescent bulbs at a time and goes through about 600 a year.

The fact that CFLs take longer to reach their full brightness also turns some people off, he added.

“There is some customer dissatisfaction with the light emitted from the CFL and color frequency changes,” said Doug Decker, a registered professional engineer, retired vice president of Johnson Controls and founder of the Energy Efficiency Forum.

But he can’t explain claims that CFLs have quick burnout times. He installed CFLs on his sail boat more than a decade ago. He has had to replace only one, and that one didn’t burn out, it was broken.

He said the “herd mentality” demonstrated with last week’s block was sad and unfortunate. But it will have little impact.

“The manufacturers of inefficient bulbs are not going to make them anymore. It’s just kind of silly politics,” Decker said. He has heard straight from some of the manufacturers that they won’t make the bulbs anymore.

He has researched the phase out and what he found was that if all bulbs that don’t meet energy efficiency standards were replaced with CFLs, the U.S. could eliminate 80 coal-fired 500-megawatt power plants.

“That’s not actually going to happen,” he added. The phase out doesn’t even attempt to eliminate all incandescent lights, but starts with 100-watt bulbs and adds lower wattages over the years.

“What will happen is the demand on the electrical system will diminish greatly,” he said, adding that about 22 percent of the demand on the system in the nation is for lighting.

The change over to more energy efficient lights is “something we need to encourage,” Decker said. “It’s a win-win. Less energy is used, which reduces the cost to us and there’s an environmental component.”

He also added that incandescent lights that meet energy efficiency standards will still be available. He pointed to the Philips EcoVantage bulb as an example.

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