Just as we were going to press with our January issue, Congress managed to give the 100W standard incandescent bulb a stay of execution on the eve of the Energy Independence & Security Act (EISA) regulations going into effect nationwide this month. The new law (already a year old in California), which prohibits the sale of 100W incandescents manufactured after Jan. 1, is still in place, requiring that standard 1,600-lumen-output bulbs use 72W or fewer. But a provision tacked onto a massive must-pass mid-December spending deal will prevent the Dept. of Energy from putting any money toward the implementation or enforcement of the new bulb standards — at least until the end of the government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.
This is not the first time the “bulb ban” has been brought into question by politicians. In fact, the ill-fated Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act introduced in 2008 is the reason most of us outside of Minnesota knew who Michele Bachmann was long before her bid for the Republican presidential nomination. For some, the lowly incandescent light bulb had become a symbol of something much larger: a line crossed by government interference ... perhaps even as an instantly recognizable icon to represent liberty itself.
The American Lighting Assn. (ALA) and others with a stake in EISA’s outcome worked diligently to ensure that the standards — and the time horizon to produce quality alternatives — would be reasonable. Based on the innovations introduced at the past two Lightfairs, the lighting industry has clearly risen to the challenge. And in that way, EISA’s light bulb requirements have kind of already done their job, accelerating research and development of LED replacement bulbs, improved CFLs, EISA-compliant halogens and lighting controls that play nice with all of the above. At the same time, production of incandescents has diminished — what difference will it make if it’s legal to sell them if no one even makes them anymore?
Ultimately, EISA has resulted in a new range of choices for the consumer by attempting to eliminate a specific segment of “technology” that — however nostalgic and primal (and political) its appeal may continue to be — needed a nudge to go gently into that watt-guzzling goodnight.
On Feb. 1, we’re bringing Joe Rey-Barreau to the Las Vegas Market to explain the latest developments in lighting regulations (I can picture him updating his Powerpoint right now) and the resulting opportunities for retailers and designers. Even in the face of this latest development, the topic is more timely than ever, as it represents a reprieve and not a full pardon.