If energy needs to be saved, there are good ways to do it.
                                                               Government product regulation is not one of them

Monday, June 13, 2011

Need a Light Bulb? Uncle Sam Chooses


Excerpts with highlighting, from: Bloomberg Article June 10th
by Virginia Postrel

What Americans Like
CFLs had managed to capture only 25 per cent of the general-purpose light-bulb market — a decent business, sure, but hardly the radical transformation evangelists were going for. Most Americans, for most purposes, have stuck to traditional incandescents.

So the activists offended by the public’s presumed wastefulness took a more direct approach. They joined forces with the big bulb producers, who had an interest in replacing low-margin commodities with high-margin specialty wares, and, with help from Congress and President George W Bush, banned the bulbs people prefer.

It was an inside job. Neither ordinary consumers nor even organised interior designers had a say. Lawmakers buried the ban in the 300-plus pages of the 2007 energy bill, and very few talked about it in public. It was crony capitalism with a touch of green. Of such deals are Tea Parties born.

A bipartisan mistake
Though sponsored largely by Democrats, the ban was a bipartisan effort. It never would have become law without support from Republican senators and the signature of President Bush. Through filibuster and veto threats, Republicans got other changes in the 2007 energy bill — changes that had vocal corporate constituencies — but they didn’t fight the light bulb ban. Maybe it seemed like progress. It was certainly pro-business.

But banning light bulbs is one of the least efficient ways imaginable to attack those problems. A lamp using power from a clean source is treated the same as a lamp using power from a dirty source. A ban gives electricity producers no incentive to reduce emissions.

Nor does it allow households to make choices about how best to conserve electricity. A well-designed policy would allow different people to make different tradeoffs among different uses to produce the most happiness for a given amount of power. Maybe I want to burn a lot of incandescent bulbs but dry my clothes outdoors and keep the air conditioner off. Maybe I want to read by warm golden light instead of watching a giant plasma TV.
What matters, from a public policy perspective, isn’t any given choice but the total amount of electricity I use. If they’re really interested in environmental quality, policy makers shouldn’t care how households get to that total.
They should just raise the price of electricity, through taxes or higher rates, to discourage using it.

Even if you care nothing about individual freedom or aesthetic pleasure, this ham-handed approach wouldn’t pass muster in a classroom at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. As pollution control, it’s horribly inefficient.

The bulb ban makes sense only one of two ways:
either as an expression of cultural sanctimony, with a little technophilia thrown in for added glamour, or as a roundabout way to transfer wealth from the general public to the few businesses with the know-how to produce the light bulbs consumers don’t really want to buy. Or, of course, as both.

Regarding a more relevant electricity policy
http://ceolas.net/ introductory section

Regarding the politics behind banning light bulbs,
The involvement of manufacturers and other vested interests,
as seen by official USA and EU documentation and communications

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