NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Green Technology Mandates Are Bad for Consumers and the Environment

July 13, 2011

Recent government promotion of "energy efficient" consumer products has increased sales of various household appliances, such as washing machines and toilets, and light bulbs.  These products have been touted as environmentally friendly.  However, the performance of these products is often subpar, reducing energy savings or environmental benefits.  They also have other drawbacks, including safety hazards, say H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow, and Wesley Dwyer, a policy intern, with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Consider light bulbs.  The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act effectively banned the sale of incandescent light bulbs, starting with 100-watt bulbs in 2012 and progressing to a ban on 40-watt bulbs in 2014.  The alternative for most households will be compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

  • Unfortunately, CFLs contain mercury -- a potentially serious hazard to consumers if the bulb is broken.
  • CFL bulbs have also exploded spontaneously while in use, sometimes resulting in fires.

In addition to the safety risk, a CFL bulb can cost six to 10 times as much as an incandescent.  The energy benefit of CFLs is that they use less electricity to produce the same amount of light.  However, because laboratory conditions rarely match typical use, consumers rarely save that much.  Consider:

  • CFLs must be left on for at least 15 minutes at a time and used continuously for several hours a day to achieve their full energy savings, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • CFLs can take up to three minutes to reach full brightness when turned on, say manufacturers, initially providing as little as 50 percent of their rated output.
  • CFLs used for only a few minutes at a time, such as in closets and bathrooms, burn out as fast as incandescent bulbs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The federal government should cease interfering with consumer choices for household goods and appliances, say Burnett and Dwyer.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett and Wesley Dwyer, "Green Technology Mandates Are Bad for Consumers and the Environment," National Center for Policy Analysis, July 13, 2011.

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