The U.S. Energy Department (DOE) through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking this month has stirred up a debate in Washington about whether consumers should have a choice in buying light bulbs.
The debate is likely to spill into energy hearings on Capitol Hill this month.
Environmental groups want the government to decide, citing climate change threats require a mandate and a heavy hand. Lighting manufacturers want the market to decide.
At stake is a nearly $44 million lighting market and 6 billion sockets to fill in households across America.
At issue are several 2007 amendments to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 and subsequent interpretations of the statute, which DOE says were illegal, including a final rule which was approved Jan. 19, 2017, one day before President Donald Trump took office.
If the rule is left unchecked, Americans would be left with two options for residential lighting by 2020—LEDs and compact florescent lights (CFLs). The CFLs comprise about 6% of market share, and their share dwindles year over year.
Environmentalists had supported the use of CFLs some years ago, but many groups distanced themselves from the technology after the Environmental Protection Agency reported the bulbs contain mercury, toxic to human health.
Industry Is Pro-Choice
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), which represents light bulb manufacturers, said LED bulbs in 2014 and 2015 increased by 237%, making up 15 percent of the entire U.S. bulb market at the end of 2015.
LEDs have been on an upward trajectory since.
NEMA told DOE “the marketplace is doing an excellent job of transitioning to more efficient lighting solutions” and does not need government intervention.
NEMA said 2018 third quarter data shows LED bulbs account for about 65% of the consumer lamp market, followed by halogen incandescents, which account for about 28% of the market.
“By the end of 2015, traditional incandescent lamps were virtually gone from store shelves and manufacturers were no longer shipping those lamps,” NEMA said in its December 2018 blog.
CFL sales, which account for 6.7% of the market have “fallen dramatically” NEMA said.
NEMA has told DOE that the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act is clear. DOE was only expected to determine whether general service incandescent lamps and other incandescent lamps could be made more efficient and subject to higher standards.
After DOE issued its rule January 19, 2017, NEMA fired back.
Carl Silcox, NEMA’s general counsel, said in his blog, “NEMA believes the Department of Energy [under President Obama] flipped Congress’ intent on its head and mistakenly concluded that its job was to eliminate the energy-efficient halogen incandescent light bulb rather than determine whether a higher efficiency standard for those bulbs could be economically justified and technologically feasible.”
“NEMA is aware of media reports that some hold the view that a 45 lumen-per-watt standard for all of these types of lamps is going into effect in January 2020,” Silcox wrote in his blog.
“But that remains to be determined, and it is premature to say either yes or no until DOE follows the rules laid out by Congress in the 2007 law and addresses all the issues that Congress directed DOE to address.”
Lighting giant GE stopping manufacturing CFLs three years ago to focus on LEDs. In 2016, GE’s LED lighting sales grew 250% and made up 15% of the 1.7 billion light bulbs GE sold that year. GE still manufactures efficient halogen incandescent bulbs and some traditional incandescent bulbs.
In his blog last month, the president and CEO of GE Lighting, Bill Lacey, said sales of LED bulbs in the consumer market are greater than sales of all other lighting technologies combined, yet nearly 60% of U.S. residential sockets still contain a less efficient bulb.
The Energy Information Administration, DOE’s statistical arm, said most homes in the U.S. use more than one type of light bulb, and it’s primarily a mix of some type of incandescent bulb—either a traditional incandescent, or a more efficient halogen incandescent.
GE does not support a government mandate.
In fact, over the past several years, NEMA has recommended a look at LED efficiency instead.
DOE sets the minimum efficiency standard for lighting, and the highest efficiency standard is set by the federal Energy Star program, jointly managed by DOE and EPA.
Frank Sharp, senior technical leader at the Electric Power Research Institute, said the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was implemented in 2012, 2013, 2014, required 4 lamps—100-watt, 75-watt, 60-watt, and 40-watt general service incandescents—to be replaced with something 28% or greater in efficiency. The efficient bulbs are increased efficiency halogens, LEDs and CFLs.
With DOE’s new notice of proposed rulemaking, Sharp said the current discussion is tailored around whether the 2020 implementation will impact only those four lamp categories or will be broadened to include more lamps and lighting categories.
“That’s the root of this discussion,” Sharp said. But the discussion has broadened in a matter of days.
DOE said it’s trying to follow the law and provide consumers with a wide range of affordable energy options to meet their needs.
Leave Them No Choice
Environmental groups, one after the other, have deployed nearly identical statements criticizing the administration and painted a grim scenario should DOE reverse course.
The National Resource Defense Council said the new rule would cost consumers $12 billion on their utility bills and cause up to 25 more coal-burning power plants worth of electricity to be generated every year. NRDC said that’s enough to power all the households in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) echoed those costs.
ACEEE said it used government and industry data published by DOE, NEMA and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to arrive at its conclusions. The analysis is clear and takes into account the natural market growth of LEDs, it said.
“[This] is ideologically driven,” said Andrew deLaski, Executive Director for ACEEE’s Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “The Trump administration wants to advance an agenda that all regulation is bad.”
But the ideology seems to exist on both sides of the argument.
DOE said consumer demand is driving innovation in advanced lighting technologies, and the department is committed to a regulatory process that promotes consumer choice, technological innovation, and certainty to stakeholders.
Diversity of supply and freedom of choice are at the center of the Energy Department’s proposal.
ACEEE Executive Director Steve Nadel said it’s both illegal and a burden to U.S. industry for DOE to reverse course.
“If this rule is finalized by DOE, it is likely to be challenged in court. Since the U.S. standards that require LED, CFL or equivalent scheduled to take effect Jan. 2, 2020, there will be substantial uncertainty for manufacturers and retailers,” Nadel said.
He cites a similar case in California where the state’s governor fought then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for attempting to roll back vehicle emissions standards across the country.
Cutting Carbon At All Costs
DeLaski said the LED market will grow organically even with a diverse supply on the market, but accelerating LED growth, changing consumer behavior, is critical to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
In a statement, DeLaski said if DOE reverses the rule, “US electricity use would increase by 80 billion kWh per year.”
He said pollution increases would include 19,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 23,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year by 2025, the annual CO2 emissions equal to that of more than seven million cars.”
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and DOE’s Energy Information Administration said the residential sector consumes nearly 22% of all U.S. electricity produced, and lighting accounts for 6% of total residential sector electricity consumption.
Make Them Make Good Choices
“The [existing] standards push LED choice to be the default choice in the marketplace [in 2020],” DeLaski said.
By keeping the existing rule, “You’re accelerating the transition [to LEDs] through a policy choice,” he said.
“Low income folks shopping at the Dollar Store, they don’t have good choices,” DeLaski said.
They often just buy the lower-priced incandescent or halogen, he said. “Some consumers are slow to make changes, some consumers just buy what they always buy,” he said.
DOE’s new assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Dan Simmons, is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Energy Subcommittee soon.
Simmons was confirmed by the Senate in January, though he was nominated by President Trump in June 2018. Still, House lawmakers want a progress report. The notice of proposed rulemaking is expected to come up.