Each morning I look forward to reading the morning paper. Since she got an iPad, a little over a year ago, my wife keeps saying why don’t you cancel the paper and just read the paper on-line. It is a routine, I know, but this habit helps me start the day and get my mind in gear—usually. And maybe now I am ooooollllllddddd fashioned. Or perhaps just old, but I really appreciate the ritual—ritual sounds much more mature than routine and lends an air of distinction to this anachronistic practice don’t you think?
Well, as I was reading once again I am presented with yet one more justification on why we need to have a serious discussion about the national economy, the role of government in the economy, and why we need to move much of the ‘new found’ federal responsibility back to the states, and the private sector; as if any more justification was needed on top of, Cartagena Hooker-gate, GSA let’s all meet and have a party at the taxpayer’s expense-gate, and Solyndra-gate.
The point of today’s reflection is an article, in the Boston Globe by Peter Svensson, “Rebates to ease shock of a $60.00 light bulb.” I think everyone needs to read this article, if you have not done so already.
Having been in the technology sector for many years, and having a few friends who have either invested in or started, “green” energy companies, I have a passing familiarity with the basis for the creation of this bulb. There was a $10 million contest, sponsored by our federal government to stimulate the production of more energy efficient light bulbs, driven by political pandering to the let’s save the environment from the evils of incandescent light bulbs crowd.
The justification was that incandescent bulbs convert a large amount of energy to heat, therefore it is wasted. This is a valid point. Another point is that from these group’s figures, the average life span of a 60 watt incandescent bulb is 1,500 hours and therefore the contest was for not only a green bulb but one that lasts longer so the cost could be justified.
The contest rules were for a bulb that lasted much longer and it had to cost $22.00, or less, in the first year, with the assumption that the price would go down as adoption and production increased. Oh yea, it was an American program, and you would think it was also to stimulate American jobs and American business? Nope! Only one company, Phillips, and if you don’t know Phillips is based in the Netherlands, entered the contest. Of course they won. But there is a catch!
The bulb will cost $60.00 not $22.00 or less. Of course the argument from the groups is they are forcing electric companies to provide rebates for the purchase of the bulb so the price will be offset by $20 or $30 dollars, but if my math is correct $60 – $30 is still $30 which is more than $22.00, last I checked. And now, as this is coming to light (so to speak), Phillips says they will offer an initial discounted price of $50.00 so the price will be in the $20 to $30 range… Great deal isn’t it? They got $10 million so you can bet the discount will last until they sell the first million bulbs (that’s $10 million divided by the $10 dollar discount). And let’s not even ask the question if the chemistry in these bulbs might be more hazardous to the environment once they are disposed of.
The thing that gets me about this whole program is that all of this “savings” are coming from us in the first place, so we are not saving anything. The rebates are charged back to us in the form of higher cost per kilowatt, and the $10 million came from us in taxes. Most importantly, we are increasing the cost of light bulbs from about $1.10 per bulb to over $50.00. And this is predicated on saving the planet, lowering our energy costs, and stimulating the American Job market . . . Well forget the American Job market part I guess . . .
Last point I have on this subject is, if the statistics I hear quoted about incandescent bulbs are accurate, then I am the luckiest S.O.B. in the whole world because . . .
They claim that an incandescent bulb only lasts for 1,500 hours. I have by a quick count at least twenty-eight, 40 – 60 watt incandescent bulbs in my house now. I have been in this house for over ten years. I replace on average two bulbs a year. Most of the lights in my house burn five hours a day, some more, some less, but this is my best guess on the average. So, my lights are lit about 1,825 hours per year. Given the 1500 hour average life, according to these green groups, I should be buying and replacing about thirty bulbs a year. But you know what, I don’t . . . I never have. In fact, the reason that incandescent bulbs burn out as quickly as they do, albeit much more slowly for lucky me, is because the vacuum in the bulb at manufacture is not as complete as it could be. And it only costs me $1.11 cents to buy these evil, world destroying, 60 watt bulbs, or $2.20 per year. This means, I theoretically change them all once every fourteen years.
Now, if I buy twenty-eight of these new bulbs that are supposed to last twenty years, even with the discount, it will cost me $840.00. I can buy 756 of my old bulbs for that price, which would have lasted fifty-four years at my current replacement rate.
Light bulb manufacturers, all the way back to old Tom Edison, knew they could make bulbs that lasted for a long, long, time—10 to 30 years. In fact, they have, by accident and random chance. My grandfather’s house had some of the original Edison bulbs with a base the size of a ping pong ball and a filament that looked as thick as a pencil lead. If they were not broken over time, they would all probable be burning today. Good for homeowners, but bad for GE, Sylvania, etc. These guys new that bulbs could be cheap because you bought a lot of them every year, and if you only buy a few every twenty years then they will cost a whole lot more. And guess what, they were correct back then and they are correct now!
Since I am now living in California, and I can’t buy many incandescent bulbs because they have been outlawed, I have a few CFL bulbs, and so far I have had to replace these bulbs at least once a year and in one case, in the globe ceiling fixture in my closet that has two 40 watt bulbs, much more frequently. In fact, if one of these suckers blows out in the fixture, the other one dies, seemly out of sympathy, in just a few days.
Due primarily to labor and benefits costs, and secondarily because we have a dwindling lower wage labor pool because everyone must go to college, we are already non-competitive in manufacturing. Now, we will begin increasing the cost of lighting by almost fifty times as we move to these “save the planet” bulbs. Many supporters of these bulbs argue that in the long run we are going to save so much more in costs of energy because of their efficiencies. Well, due to past experience I am both skeptical of the claim, and dubious that the short term increase of costs on an already non-competitive economic structure will ever be offset. And even if it theoretically will lower costs in the long run, I am starting to doubt we will be around as a vibrant economy for it to matter anyway; which means we won’t be buying a lot of $60 light bulbs because we won’t be able to afford them.
While I am all for limiting the impact we have on the environment, like everything else in life we need to also maintain some viability. In this case, the viability is tied to our cumulative cost and its impact on our economic i.e. national and cultural viability. Perhaps If we really want to save the planet then we should likely all agree to commit suicide now. Then we will no longer have an impact. I guess, that is, after the ecosystem once again returns to stasis after the population blooms of bacteria, predators, carrion feeders, etc. — all go through their own population explosion-die off cycles as the excess food sources from the rotting polluting corpses we leave behind are finally consumed and absorbed into the ecosystem. On second thought, this will likely be a bigger polluting source that all the incandescent bulbs so maybe we should just keep the incandescent bulb and balance it by what we save by not committing suicide in the first place—Cap n’ Trade at its finest.
Oh yea, can’t use cap n’ trade, cause the state is going to use that to pay for the High-Speed Rail to nowhere!