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Fervor to ban light bulbs dims

Assembly majority is now behind bill setting energy-efficient rules for manufacturers.

 Description by Fox News: Junk Science, light bulb lunacy 

By Jim Sanders - Sacramento Bee July 17, 2007. Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A3

Thomas Edison can rest in peace -- his incandescent light bulb won't be banned by California lawmakers this year after all.

Legislation to phase out the common bulb was shelved this month, elbowed aside by a competing bill that sends lighting makers an ultimatum: Conserve energy, or the party's over.

Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench UC Davis professor Michael Siminovitch holds a light bar that features an array of lights that include LED, halogen, incandescent and compact fluorescent, inside a sphere used to measure the effectiveness of light sources. Siminovitch directs the California Lighting Technology Center, a UC Davis project. Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench
Assembly Bill 1109 would require the state to set an energy-efficiency standard for light bulbs that Edison's nearly 130-year-old invention can't currently meet -- but might in the future.

"We've really worked hard to make sure that we're not playing that game of picking winners and losers," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who crafted the bill.

Supporters hail AB 1109 as a national model that would reduce electrical demand, curb emission of 6 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, and save ratepayers $3 billion per year by negating the need for five new power plants.

But opponents blast the bill as a backdoor ban on incandescents and the latest link in a chain of bills that intrude upon consumer choice.

"Sacramento keeps getting into people's knickers," said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine. "We are getting into ever-increasing levels of detail in demanding how people live their lives."

Besides the light bulb bill, the Assembly voted this month to require toilets that use less water, ban restaurants from using trans fats, and to create a $250 million program to subsidize sales of solar water heaters costing $6,000 apiece.

The Assembly considered, but rejected under pressure from the auto industry, legislation designed to benefit the environment by assessing a $2,500 surcharge on the the sale of gas-guzzling vehicles to fund rebates for fuel-efficient models.

"Leave people alone, and let them make their own decisions," DeVore said.

Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat, said that creating a light bulb energy standard hurts nobody. California already requires products ranging from refrigerators to air conditioners to meet efficiency targets, he said.

"If we can nudge the market in a positive direction that works for the environment and works for consumers, why not do it?" Huffman said.

Under AB 1109, the California Energy Commission would create standards that by 2018 would reduce electricity consumption by 50 percent for indoor lighting and 25 percent for commercial and outdoor lighting.

All three of the nation's largest bulb makers -- GE, Sylvania and Philips -- offer both incandescents and energy-efficient models, so none would be placed at a competitive disadvantage, Huffman said.

The lighting industry supports the bill. The most prominent opponent, California Chamber of Commerce, objects primarily to sidestepping existing recycling programs to create one specifically for bulbs.

AB 1109 was passed by the Assembly, 49-29, with most Republicans voting no. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position.

Michael Siminovitch, director of the California Lighting Technology Center, a project of UC Davis, said creating an energy standard is more practical than banning incandescents.

"You can't just eliminate a class of technology if there's not something ready and able to replace it that will give the kinds of benefits that people expect," he said.

For Californians, the issue targets one of their most widely used and vitally needed household products, depended upon for everything from reading to dining.

The prime target of Huffman's legislation is Edison's 19th century invention, the low-cost but wasteful incandescent, which converts only 5 percent of the electricity it uses into light, the remaining 95 percent into heat.

GE, formerly known as General Electric, has announced plans to retain the traditional incandescent but overhaul its technology to create bulbs that are twice as energy-efficient by 2010 and, ultimately, nearly four times more efficient.

Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste, which is sponsoring AB 1109, said passage likely would push most firms toward alternative technologies.

Murray said he envisions incandescents being used a decade from now for specialty purposes -- ranging from light therapy to sun lamps -- but not routinely for home lighting.

Two potential alternatives for household lighting are halogen bulbs, currently used in headlights, and light-emitting diode bulbs, or LEDs, used in traffic lights and Christmas decorations.

The leading candidate to replace the common light bulb is the compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL. Fifty-six percent of homes already use at least one CFL, records show.

The California Energy Commission says CFLs can cost 10 times more than incandescents -- a gap often lowered by subsidies -- but that they burn so much longer and use so much less electricity that they save about $20 per bulb over a three-year period.

Driving the market toward compact fluorescents potentially could create disposal problems for millions of discarded bulbs, however.

"You have the unintended consequence of favoring light bulbs that have (a neurotoxin) in them," DeVore said of AB 1109.

Compact fluorescents contain trace amounts of mercury, which can cause respiratory, kidney or other health problems.

Huffman said he takes the issue seriously, noting his bill would limit the quantities of mercury in each bulb and would require creation of recycling systems.

Jim Metropulos, of Sierra Club California, said he is satisfied with the precautions.

"It's setting up a system where we're now going to deal with the waste," he said.

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