Shedding Light on Light Bulbs — Don’t Count on the NYT

In its “Home and Garden” section yesterday, The New York Times did it again: in what should have been a straight-forward puff piece about incandescent light bulb hoarding, the writer, Penelope Green, rather than shedding light on the subject, provided some misleading information.

The article focused on decorators and stylists buying large quantities of standard light bulbs because they think they are going to be phased out.  Not at all, Green writes, that’s wrong – that’s not what the law says.

Late in his second term, George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which requires light bulb makers to improve the efficiency of incandescent bulbs by 25 percent. The details of the law dictated a phase-out of the manufacture of certain bulbs in their current incarnation, starting with 100-watt bulbs next January.

The law does not ban the use or manufacture of all incandescent bulbs, nor does it mandate the use of compact fluorescent ones. It simply requires that companies make some of their incandescent bulbs work a bit better, meeting a series of rolling deadlines between 2012 and 2014. [bf added]

That bold-face sentence contradicts what the NYT itself said in a linked article in Green’s story. Here’s what NYT said:

In the United States, the Energy Act of 2007 established efficiency standards that will render most incandescent bulbs unmarketable by 2014.

Green also uses the National Electrical Manufacturers Association as her authority to refute claims about the phase-out of standard light bulbs. But check out NEMA’s own website for this information that contradicts Green’s assertions about the effect of the law:

The law provides for a three year phase out schedule that will start with today’s 100W light bulbs in 2011 in California and in 2012 in the other 49 states and territories. The 75W light bulbs will go away in year two and the 60W and 40W light bulbs will go away in year three. The law also sets minimum standards for general service incandescent light bulbs, making it necessary for you to replace the popular incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient versions.

Here’s also what General Electric’s website has about the law and its effects:

What does the legislation say?
Between 2012 and 2014, standard A-line 40- and 100-watt incandescent light bulbs must use 30% less energy, but produce the same light output as the incandescent bulbs most of us use today.

What does this mean for me?
While you won’t be required to throw out your existing bulbs, you may be surprised when trying to find the same replacements at the store. After 2012, you’ll find that these bulbs will have to be replaced with energy-efficient options, such as Halogen, CFL and LED light bulbs.

Then Green tells about her own experience buying the new, more efficient bulbs:

The reporter tried out one of the new, more efficient incandescent bulbs (the Philips Eco-Advantage in soft white, which will sell for $2.97 for a two-pack) and liked it. And yet, on a recent weekday, when the bulb section of Home Depot’s Manhattan store was empty of customers, she plucked two six-packs of old-style 75-watt G.E. soft-white bulbs ($3.47 each) and stuck them in her basket.

What she waltzes over is the cost difference between the “new, improved” bulbs and the standard bulbs. Using her figures, one learns that pays $1.48 for one “more efficient bulb” vs. $.58 for a standard one. That comes out to more than twice as much … but she didn’t bother to break that down for her readers.

Neither did she mention that the Philips’ bulb is available exclusively at Home Depot. Or that GE no longer makes standard incandescent bulbs — they’ve switched to halogen and CFL and LED bulbs — or that some major chains like Ikea have stopped selling incandescent bulbs.

I have to leave now to stock my storeroom with standard light bulbs.