Bootleg Lightbulbs Coming to California

Here's a new poll question: Should California be 1) given back to the Spanish missionaries, or 2) just allowed to go dark? 

For most of us, the first option -- give it back to the Spanish Jesuits -- is most appealing.  After all, if the EU is ready to bail out Spain, why not tack on its erstwhile colony and pick up that tab, too?

However, Californians unwilling to wait for the results of our poll question have already decided: apagar la luz.  Old reliable, the 100-watt light bulb -- safe, cheap, and bright enough to read, write, cook, shave, and put on your makeup by, will be gone January 1.

The California Energy Commission in September 2010 published its 226-page Appliance Efficiency Regulations, whereby the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will be outlawed at midnight on December 31, 2010.

Californians with self-imposed rationing, running out of both energy and common sense, have declared that consuming electrical power is a social vice.  Electric power must be curbed, along with banning Dr. Pepper and Happy Meals.  And it's not just light bulbs.  These appliance standards will regulate and ban hundreds of products  including

refrigerators, air conditioners, space heaters, water heaters, pool heaters, pool pumps, electric spas, pool pump motors, plumbing fittings, plumbing fixtures, showerheads, spray valves, faucets, tub spout diverters, water closets, urinals, ceiling fans, ceiling fan light kits, dehumidifiers, fluorescent lamp ballasts, lamps, general purpose lighting, emergency lighting, exit signs, traffic signal modules, traffic signal lamps, luminaires, torchieres, portable lighting fixtures, metal halide luminaires, high intensity discharge fixtures, HID fixtures, under-cabinet luminaires, dishwashers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, cooking products, food service equipment, electric motors, low-voltage dry-type distribution transformers, external AC to DC and AC to AC power supplies, consumer electronics, consumer audio and video equipment, televisions, compact audio products, digital versatile disc players, digital versatile disc recorders, digital television adapters, battery charger systems[.]

Of course, California's green variety replacing the power-guzzlers will carry a purchase price premium, a performance downgrade, or a nasty surprise -- maybe all three.  One of the 100-watt incandescent light bulb substitutes will be the 72-watt halogen -- a modest energy improvement, to be sure, but an improvement demanding a 200% price premium...if you can find any.  The 23-watt CFL, the darling of the environmentalists, is a bit cheaper than the halogen, and you get a prize in every bulb.  Consider that with a Happy Meal you get a toy; with a CFL, you get 3mg of mercury.  Please, sir, may I have another?

Imagine 100-watt incandescent light bulbs as contraband in California -- persona non gratis -- but illegal immigrants get free tuition -- amigo de bienvenida.

How can California stop the dreaded 100-watt light bulbs from invading their green paradise?  Simple: reprise Broderick Crawford as Chief Dan Matthews on the TV classic "Highway Patrol."  Maybe his fleet of '56 Buicks could set up roadblocks along every interstate highway stretching from Oregon to Arizona.

Smuggling bootleg light bulbs into California would be a piece of cake.  Just stuff them inside bales of marijuana.  Or line up eight packs in the cargo bays of Greyhound buses carrying illegals on the express lane from Tijuana to any of two dozen sanctuary cities.  Hey, wave 'em on in, there's nothing to check there!  Ten-four!

Well, what to expect from a state having the highest taxes in the nation, one of the highest net population outflows (rivaled only by New York and New Jersey), the highest electricity rates (except for new England)?  What to expect from a state whose citizenry re-elected Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate?  What to expect from a state where protecting three-inch bait fish -- Delta smelts -- is more important than tomatoes, cantaloupes, and jobs?

And on top of the light bulb ban and more job-killing regulations, California will herald its own cap-and-trade initiative -- driving up electricity rates even higher, driving up the exodus of more taxpayers, driving up costs for the poor and impoverished, and motivating little else except to expedite bankruptcy discussions.

It was John B.L. Soule from Terra Haute Indiana in the 1850s who first coined the phrase "Go west, young man!"  Today, you'd be best to keep going...across the South least to New Zealand, where the light bulb ban created such a firestorm that it ushered in a new government that reversed the ban in 2008.

Here's an excerpt from a dialog in the New Zealand Parliament in December of 2008 that you'll never hear in the California Assembly:

12. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Will the Government be moving to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): I am delighted to inform the House that I have issued firm instructions to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority to stop its plans to ban the  sale of incandescent light bulbs. This Government, in stark contrast to the  previous Government and the previous Minister of Energy, David Parker, rejects the idea that the Government knows best and must constantly meddle in the lives of New Zealanders. If people wish to buy incandescent light bulbs, then this Government will not stop them from doing so.

Aaron Gilmore: Why is the Government not going to ban incandescent light bulbs?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are a number of excellent reasons why we have not moved to ban those light bulbs. The first is that this Government believes that choice not compulsion, and the ability for individuals to make their own decisions about what sorts of lives they want to lead and what contribution they want to make to climate change, is far better than nanny State telling them what to do.

At least one country has finally got it right. Gerry Brownlee, New Zealand's level-headed Minister of Energy, shouldn't plan on getting a Christmas card anytime soon from the California Energy Commission.

Until Jerry Brown turns into Gerry Brownlee, the only 100-watt incandescent light bulbs for sale in California will be found in the trunk of a Cadillac in the shadows of another abandoned factory and vacant office building.

But hey, why get worked up?  It's only light bulbs!

Luminus Maximus is a longtime lighting industry observer.