Efficiency doesn’t mean less use
In 2007, President Bush signed into law a widely supported energy bill mandating, in part, that light bulbs become more efficient, starting in 2012. The effect is to eliminate the old fashioned incandescent bulb in favor of compact fluorescents and light emitting diode technology. One purpose of the law was to reduce our consumption of the fossil fuels required for electric power.
Now Republicans have switched to off, and are about to pass a repeal bill known as the BULB Act. “The American people want less government intrusion into their lives, not more, and that includes staying out of their personal light-bulb choices,” says our Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who leads her Tea Party supporters in the move for repeal.
In addition to their complaints about government intrusion, Republicans have concerns about mercury in CFLs, although that risk is minimal.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., cosponsored the light-bulb efficiency language four years ago. With strong support from the Tea Party, he is now, as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, supporting its repeal.
Supporters of the higher efficiency standards note that the standards don’t ban incandescent bulbs, they just require them to be more energy efficient. The new standards, they say, will give consumers more choices, instead of limiting them to a technology essentially unchanged since Thomas Edison. A few new incandescents do meet the higher standard.
There is another issue about more efficient lighting that is being ignored in the current debate. An article for the Journal of Physics (“Solid-state lighting: an energy-economics perspective” by Jeff Tsao, etc. August 19, 2010) analyzed the increase in energy consumption that will likely result from new more efficient solid-state lighting and fluorescent technologies. The article concluded that “More efficient lighting will increase, not decrease, energy consumption.”
During the 19th Century in England, economist William Jevons studied the coal-fueled steam engines that powered the Industrial Revolution. Jevons noted that as those improving engines used less coal for the same output, their use grew, and the total consumption of coal actually increased. In his book, “The Coal Question,” Jevons set forth what is known as the Jevons Paradox: “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuels is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”
Between 1960 and 2004, U.S. energy efficiency per unit of output increased by more than 100 percent, but total energy fuel consumption increased by 100 percent. A recent Swedish study showed that each 20 percent increase in vehicle fuel efficiency results in a 5 percent increase in total fuel consumption. If your car gets more miles per gallon, you tend to drive more. If a machine is more efficient, it produces more and new uses for it are found.
Our lives are improved by greater efficiency, but we don’t burn less fuel. So do want to make our world a little brighter even if it requires more electricity? Make your choice.
ROLF WESTGARD is a resident of Brainerd and a member of the Brainerd Dispatch Advisory Board.