Wall Street Journal's Light Bulb Error Requires A Correction

Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

In an editorial assailing light bulb efficiency standards signed into law by George W. Bush, the Wall Street Journal claims that "we will all be required to buy compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs." The Journal adds:

The question an (allegedly) free society should ask is if CFL bulbs are so clearly superior, why does the government have to force people to buy them?

But just last week the Wall Street Journal's own Gwendolyn Bounds reported that, contrary to the editorial's claim, consumers will not be limited in their choices to CFLs:

Initially, consumers will find three main alternatives to incandescent bulbs on shelves: halogen-incandescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diodes (LED). Many are designed similarly to the familiar pear-shaped "A-Line" bulb consumers know. Halogens behave most like existing bulbs, but have an inner capsule filled with halogen gas around a filament to make the bulb about 25% more efficient than a traditional incandescent. They're also the cheapest alternative at less than $2 each.

"It's essentially a souped-up incandescent bulb," says Peter Soares, director of marketing for consumer lighting at Philips Electronics North America.

The Journal's own reporting establishes that the editorial board needs to issue a correction for falsely telling readers that they will be able to purchase only CFL bulbs after the new standards take effect.

Here's how the Energy Information Administration sees the future of general service light bulb purchases:

Residential sector general service light bulb purchases

The first thing you'll notice is that as a result of the efficiency standards, we'll all need to buy far fewer light bulbs because the ones we do buy will last longer than the century-old traditional incandescent bulb that wastes 90 percent of the energy it uses. But the chart also shows that incandescent bulbs aren't going anywhere -- they're just going to be more efficient (though not as efficient as CFLs and LEDs.

Bounds noted in her report that "the light-bulb industry now faces a daunting task of re-educating shoppers who are still in the dark about their choices." This task is particularly challenging when conservative media outlets decide that there are political points to be won by misinforming their audiences.

The New York Times reported on May 25 that the trumped-up outrage about the efficiency standards "has been deeply irritating to light bulb manufacturers and retailers, which have been explaining the law, over and over again, to whomever will listen." The Times quoted electrical manufacturers representative Joseph Higbee, who challenges media outlets to "help the American people understand the energy-efficient lighting options available, as opposed to furthering misconceptions":

Joseph Higbee, a spokesman for the electrical manufacturers association, offered his take on the situation: "Unfortunately people do not yet understand this lighting transition, and mistakenly think they won't be able to buy incandescent light bulbs. This misinformation has been promoted by a number of media outlets. Incandescent light bulbs are not being banned, and the new federal energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs do not mandate the use of CFLs. My hope is that the media can help the American people understand the energy-efficient lighting options available, as opposed to furthering misconceptions."

The Journal editorial board should correct the record.

UPDATE: The Journal posted the following letters to the editor:

You incorrectly state that because of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 "we will all be required to buy compact fluorescent lights." Halogen incandescent light bulbs are more efficient and longer-lasting than conventional incandescent light bulbs, are currently available, and meet the act's minimum efficiency standards.

William L. Chameides


Nicholas School of the Environment

Durham, N.C.

The 2007 energy law does not "effectively" ban incandescent light bulbs or mandate that consumers have to buy compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). The 2007 federal law requires manufacturers to produce incandescent light bulbs that emit the same amount of light but use fewer watts. Instead of buying a 100-watt light bulb, consumers can buy 70- to 72-watt incandescent bulbs that generates the same illumination. These new advanced incandescent bulbs are now showing up on retail shelves and will be available nationwide by Jan. 1, 2012.

The advanced incandescent bulbs look the same as traditional incandescent bulbs, produce the same amount of light, are dimmable and do not contain mercury. Where they do differ is that the advanced incandescent uses 28% to 30% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. Furthermore, consumers will continue to have the option to buy other energy-efficient light bulbs, such as CFLs and new LED bulbs. Choice in illumination is expanding for consumers.

One important reason federal minimum efficiency standards are needed is to avoid a patchwork of conflicting state standards for light bulbs, which is precisely what was happening in 2007 before the federal law was passed. Consumer costs would have increased if manufacturers had to produce differing light bulbs for different states. And that increase in costs would limit consumer options. That is why consensus-based federal efficiency standards have enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and the White House.

Kyle Pitsor

National Electrical Manufacturers Association

Rosslyn, Va.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Conservation, Energy
Wall Street Journal
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