Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

States Wax Fluorescent

by Eric Kelderman, Stateline.org Staff Writer

What’s the latest bright idea to save energy? Lawmakers in at least seven states want to ban ordinary light bulbs in favor of longer-lasting, energy-efficient compact fluorescents.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) already has ordered state agencies to fill the light sockets with fluorescents to save electricity and cut power-plant emissions blamed for global warming.

In what could be the beginning of the end for inventor Thomas Alva Edison’s most famous achievement, even his home state of New Jersey has a bill to do away with energy-eating incandescent bulbs in state government buildings within three years.

A similar proposal is up for debate in South Carolina. And legislatures in California, Connecticut, North Carolina and Rhode Island are debating bills to phase out traditional light bulbs statewide by 2012 or 2016 as a way to trim consumer’s and government’s electricity bills and to help save the planet from global warming.

The incandescent light bulb isn’t on a slippery slope just in the United States. Australia already has banned it by 2010, and the Canadian province of Ontario will do the same by 2012.

The problem is that more than 90% of the energy used to light a thin tungsten filament inside common bulbs — using a different material but the same design as Edison’s in 1879 — goes to waste as excess heat, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Several inventors actually worked on the light bulb before Edison, but he’s credited with improving it enough for safe, practical use.

Fluorescent lights use electricity to excite a gas inside a glass tube. They consume one-quarter to one-third as much electricity as conventional light bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, according to ACEEE. One downside, though, is they also contain small amounts of toxic mercury and should be properly recycled, the EPA recommends.

For the full report including a rundown of legislative activity among the states go to stateline.org.

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