Intelligent Energy

Will Texas pardon the incandescent bulb from 'death row'?

Will Texas pardon the incandescent bulb from 'death row'?

Posting in Energy

The fate of the 100-watt bulb lies on the Texan governor's desk. As national efficiency requirements approach, will the Lone Star State become the lone state for old incandescents?

The fate of the 100-watt incandescent light bulb lies on Texas Governor Rick Perry's desk. He has until the end of the weekend to grant pardon to the bulb, found guilty of energy inefficiency by the federal government.

Starting in January, the traditional incandescent bulb's existence will dim from light fixtures and stores across the country. Over the next few years, the U.S. is essentially outlawing its production and sale nationwide—well, nationwide except maybe Texas.

Lawmakers in the Lone Star State recently passed the BULB Act, which would excuse bulbs that are manufactured and sold in Texas from the new standards. If made into law, such exempt bulbs would require a "Made in Texas" branding on them. Just how many of those bulbs there would be is not clear. Led by State Representative Joe Barton, bill supporters offer a rationale that blends states rights, consumer choice, bulb expense and health concerns, such as the mercury risk from a broken compact fluorescent bulb.

Arizona lawmakers tried a similar plea last year. In that case, the old bulb got the chair, or rather, the veto.

Now now, wipe away those nostalgic tears. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act still allows Americans to bask in the familiar, warm glow of incandescent light. The new bulbs that emit it will just need to be around 25 percent more efficient.

Bob Keefe of the Natural Resource Defense Council, which opposes the Texas exemption, tells the Miami Herald:

Nobody is forcing anybody to use only compact florescent bulbs. Several manufacturers are already making incandescent bulbs that have the same lighting quality as old-school incandescents that we all know and use. It's just that newer, more efficient versions use 25-30 percent less energy - saving the average Texas household an estimated $100 per year and reducing overall Texas energy bills by more than $900 million.

While replacements for the old standby—CFLs, LEDs, hybrids—are not yet perfect, they are making progress. And in the name of consuming less energy and reducing emissions, a little patience could be worthwhile. After all, we have adjusted to new lighting before. In the New York Times Magazine recently, Andrew Rice describes the incandescent bulb's not-so-warm reception, after Thomas Edison first demonstrated his invention to the public in 1879:

Some detractors saw electric light as unnatural and reddish, lacking the comforting attributes of a gas flame. But with further refinements — the cardboard filament was replaced by bamboo, and later tungsten — quality improved. At first, bulbs were fairly expensive: in 1891, one went for 44 cents, more than $10 when adjusted for inflation.

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Images: Wikipedia Commons, Edison bulb

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure