The right-wing war against the light bulb

Image showing both a fluorescent and an incand...

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The compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) that is. Notice op-eds and tweets from the usual people against the CFL? Ever wonder why?

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), those familiar spiral bulbs, have been shown to have a shelf life ten times that of incandescents, with energy costs around a quarter of those found with the older bulbs. So why are the congressmen behind the bill so in favor of keeping the old, energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs?

Why indeed. Is it because CFLs are worse for the environment?

Others have cited safety concerns, saying that the CFL bulbs pose an environmental risk due to the mercury they contain — though the EPA promotes a bulb recycling program, and the trace amounts of mercury contained in the CFL bulbs would in fact add less mercury to the ecosystem than incandescent bulbs do. Their reduced energy usage would slightly mitigate the amount of mercury that coal-burning power plants emit into the air.

Oh. Okay. Why then?

The real answer as to why the bill’s sponsors are itching to extend the shelf life of incandescent bulbs may not be so ideological. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that in one year, replacing just one 60-watt incandescent bulb with an equivalent CFL results in $7 in energy savings (Microsoft Excel file). Other Department of Energy figures (PDF) state that the average U.S. household has 45 light bulbs across 30 separate fixtures and that there are 116,900,000 households in the country. This means there are 5.26 billion light bulbs across the United States. At present, CFLs hover at a market share just under 30 percent. If that were to go up to 100 percent as a result of the EISA mandate, power companies would stand to lose almost $26 billion in revenue every single year.

That’s why.