Compact fluorescent light bulbs a step in the right direction

Once again, Commonwealth Edison is offering residential customers an opportunity to buy up to 1 million Energy Star-rated compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) at a substantial discount. The bulbs are available in 350 retail outlets across northern Illinois. They use one-quarter the energy of a comparable incandescent bulbs, and are expected to last 10 times longer. According to ComEd, the savings from last year’s CFL program was equivalent to the energy consumption of 8,200 average northern Illinois homes at a savings of $35 over the life of each bulb.

An added twist this year is the introduction of a pilot CFL recycling program in cooperation with Ace Hardware Stores and the Illinois EPA. CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which can be captured, processed and sold. Glass and aluminum in the bulbs can also be captured, processed and sold. Used bulbs returned to some 150 Ace Hardware Stores will be collected and taken to an appropriate recycling center.

While at the recent press conference at Bob’s Ace Hardware Store, we shared the story with an owner regarding how Bob’s Ace became the first store in Rockford to stock CFLs. At the time, the bulbs were very expensive and only available though catalogues. Students in an energy conservation class decided Bob’s was likely to be willing to offer the bulbs for sale. The class decided to encourage the store to carry the bulbs and purchase at least one each. Part of the strategy included students calling the store on successive days and asking the manager if they carried CFLs. When the third student called, the manager indicated he had been getting quite a few calls recently about the bulbs and would look into stocking them. Within a few weeks, the bulbs were in the store and have been available there ever since.

The simple step of replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs is one of the fastest ways to cut carbon emissions. It is also becoming very popular. Wal-Mart intends to double its sales of CFLs during the next year. Citizens in countries around the world are calling on units of government to start using CFLs in all their buildings. As citizens and taxpayers, we have the right to expect those who operate our public buildings to make effective use of energy-saving options. Some public-minded citizens might even consider buying an extra CFL and donating it to a needy public building.

A “ban the incandescent bulb movement” is starting to take root. Last spring, Australia announced it would phase out incandescents by 2010. A few months later, Canada announced it would phase out by 2012. A 2012 deadline has also been introduced in California while Russia, New Zealand and India are considering similar bans.

Lester Brown estimates that a ban on incandescent bulb sales in the United States would cut energy demand equal to the output of 80 coal-fired power plants. Rather than building more coal-fired power plants, as envisioned by energy supply advocates, implementing energy efficiency programs can substantially reduce our consumption. According to many estimates, we could cut our energy demand in half by widespread implementation of energy efficiency.

According to a U.S. government calculation, the energy saved over the lifetime of one 24-watt CFL is equivalent to driving a Prius from New York to San Francisco. While the car analogy helps convey the potential of energy savings, if taken literally, it suggests we can use our saved energy on another form of energy consumption.

The energy party is over. It is time to dramatically cut our consumption. Energy reformers have called for at least a 50 percent reduction by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming. We have the knowledge and technology to achieve energy reductions of this magnitude, but have yet to develop the political will to make it happen.

Buy some compact fluorescent bulbs. Install them at home; give some to your friends and neighbors; donate some to a publicly-owned facility. Make the switch today.

from the Oct. 10, 2007, issue

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