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Could the ban on incandescent bulbs leave some in the dark?

New U.S. policy bans incandescent bulbs, but will energy-efficient LEDs leave some Americans in the dark?
Could the ban on incandescent bulbs leave some in the dark?
Posted at 5:04 PM, Aug 05, 2023

A federal ban on the sale of incandescent lightbulbs is now in effect as of Aug. 1.

While the bulbs are still legal to own, retailers are prohibited from selling them and companies from making them.

The Department of Energy says LED light bulbs provide more light while using 75% less energy, and though they're individually more expensive, the DOE argues that they last 25 times longer than incandescent, so the long-term cost should be lower.

Critics see regulations on household appliances like lightbulbs and stoves as a sign of "government overreach."

"Under his watch, energy prices have skyrocketed while his agencies push through rules to suppress energy production and hurt American energy independence. His administration is even going after Americans Household appliances," said Texas Republican Rep. Pat Fallon.

The regulation push over light bulbs dates back to the Bush administration in 2007.

The Republican president signed off on the bipartisan legislation setting minimums for energy efficiency in bulbs, calling it a major step towards reducing the country's dependence on oil and a step in confronting climate change.

At the end of President Obama's tenure, his administration finalized the requirements and widened standards for efficiency. But the Trump administration would halt the move.

SEE MORE: The Inflation Reduction Act drives big gains in US renewable energy

"The bulb that we're being forced to use, the light's no good—I always look orange, and so do you. The light is the worst. But number two—it's many times more expensive than that old incandescent bulb that worked very well," former President Donald Trump said.

The current Department of Energy estimates the standards would save consumers $3 billion each year in utility costs, though LED bulbs tend to cost more than incandescent ones.

Incandescent bulbs lose energy through heat, making them hot to touch when lit and wasteful. They were famously used to heat up food in the original Easy-Bake ovens.

For comparison, for standard Christmas tree lights, incandescent bulbs use 20 watts. For LEDs, the energy used is only 2.4 watts.

The new regulations come into effect as the average monthly electrical bill in the United States jumped to a 40-year high in 2022 (an 8% climb adjusting for inflation).

Even so, some Americans are wary of a higher price tag, and the rules may not impact all Americans equally.

A 2017 report from the Consumer Federation of America found that lower-end retailers, like dollar stores, that serve low-income communities are often stocked with traditional or halogen incandescent bulbs.

Stores serving more affluent communities have already shifted to mostly selling energy-efficient LEDs. One University of Michigan study found that not only were LED bulbs harder to find on store shelves in poorer areas, but they also tend to cost $2.50 more per bulb on average than in wealthier communities.

Questions around accessibility, affordability, and government overreach remain. But these new rules could be the next step toward a brighter and more energy-efficient future.

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