Green Follies Escalate in the Face of Failure

Those widely heralded compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) turn out to be a bit of dud in the real world.

For years, we have seen traditional light bulbs vanishing from shelves of hardware stores and Home Depots across America.  They have been replaced by those screw-shaped things that bespeak the future -- a future of dull lights, money flowing overseas, Americans jobs being terminated, and promised energy savings going up in smoke.

From the Wall Street Journal:

California's utilities are spending $548 million over seven years to subsidize consumer purchases of compact fluorescent lamps. But the benefits are turning out to be less than expected.

One reason is that bulbs have gotten so cheap that Californians buy more than they need and sock them away for future use. Another reason is that the bulbs are burning out faster than expected.

California led the way, as it often does with damaging fads, especially those beloved by environmentalists and green energy schemers.  The Golden State has been wonderful for job creation -- in Arizona and New Mexico, as businesses flee from high energy costs and move to states with sensible energy -- and tax, and regulatory -- policies.

No state has done more to promote compact fluorescent lamps than California. On Jan. 1, the state began phasing out sales of incandescent bulbs, one year ahead of the rest of the nation. A federal law that takes effect in January 2012 requires a 28% improvement in lighting efficiency for conventional bulbs in standard wattages. Compact fluorescent lamps are the logical substitute for traditional incandescent light bulbs, which won't be available in stores after 2014.

California utilities have used ratepayer funds to subsidize sales of more than 100 million of the bulbs since 2006.  Most of them are made in China. It is part of a comprehensive state effort to use energy-efficiency techniques as a substitute for power production. Subsidized bulbs cost an average of $1.30 in California versus $4 for bulbs not carrying utility subsidies.

Anxious to see what ratepayers got for their money, state utility regulators have devoted millions of dollars in the past three years for evaluation reports and field studies. What California has learned, in a nutshell, is that it is hard to accurately predict and tricky to measure energy savings.  It is also difficult to design incentive plans that reward-but don't overly reward-utilities for their promotional efforts.There are additional problems since it seems the state may have over-rewarded utilities with taxpayer money to promote a program that has failed to live up to the green dreams of its proponents.

There are additional problems, since it seems the state may have over-rewarded utilities with taxpayer money to promote a program that has failed to live up to the green dreams of its proponents.

In the real world, these buggers burn out at a fast rate. If I may indulge the reader with my own personal tale: I bought into the dream, mostly because I thought I would save money and energy.  Also, I am lazy, and I got tired of getting up on the ladder or slippery surfaces to reach bulbs that needed to be replaced.  I thought screwing these wonder-bulbs in as substitutes would save me time and some nagging from everyone in the house.  Well...the nagging never stopped, since everyone complains about the quality of the light and how long it takes for these things to power up to their full brightness (a brightness that is a bit unnatural).  The studies in California show that these bulbs do not work well in recessed lighting and in bathrooms.  This is bad news for me, since most of our lights are recessed.

So once again, we see how government elites and green dreamers have pushed through programs -- imposing them on us -- that have proven to be boondoggles and failures.  The landscapes of Europe (and the balance sheets of its governments) are pockmarked with solar and wind power plants that are woefully inefficient at anything other than sucking taxpayers' monies down the drain.  Spain is wobbly in no small measure because of the billions spent on solar power ventures.  Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, is considering prolonging the operation of Germany's nuclear power plants because that is the only affordable way to keep Germans supplied with power (the plants were slated to be closed, with their replacements being ultra-expensive solar and wind power plants).

But back to the bulbs and the dimwitted ones who saddled us with these screwy things.  As Investors Business Daily (and all my family members) noted, the quality of light from CFLs is poor:

Despite governments' effort to market them, CFLs are not necessarily better. Tests conducted by the London Telegraph found that using a single lamp to illuminate a room, an 11-watt CFL produced only 58% of the illumination of an equivalent 60-watt incandescent -- even after a 10-minute warm-up that consumers have found necessary for CFLs to reach their full brightness.

Lack of light isn't the only drawback. CFLs apparently are so dangerous, the European Commission has to warn consumers of the environmental hazards they pose. If one breaks, consumers are advised to air out rooms and avoid using vacuum cleaners to prevent exposure to the mercury in the bulbs.

Compounding the problem is that these bulbs are usually made in China.  The old-fashioned kind that we grew up with are being phased out, and the very last American company making them turned off its lights and closed last year -- a victim of environmentalism run amok.  Hundreds of Americans, many in their 50s, were laid off with no place to go (I wrote a requiem on the closing).  The saga of the old-fashioned light bulbs is not just a nostalgic tale of buggy whips and horse-drawn carriages being rendered extinct by progress.  They were killed by government policy.

The new House may change that policy; one of the Republican proponents of CFLs, Congressman Fred Upton, has -- pardon the pun -- seen the light, and from his new post as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he may do what few politicians ever do: undo the damage they have helped to cause.

China is going gangbusters business selling us all sort of gimcracks and doodads that are supposed to save us megawatts of energy.  In the real world -- outside Washington, D.C., outside the centers of crony capitalism (since General Electric and other politically connected corporations feed off green energy programs) -- billions of taxpayer dollars are being exported to China in return for cool and futuristic-looking curlicues that are giant, toxic wastes of money.  

I think windmills are nice-looking -- at least in Holland, they are.  But they don't suit everyone's tastes.  The Kennedys and other mega-wealthy residents of Cape Cod have been in high dudgeon for years over the Cape Wind project to place windmills in a windy area offshore.  The actual eyeprint would be quite small, but why should they endure anything but perfection as they (including Senator John Kerry) take their yachts out for a spin?

The bluebloods have been successful in killing the project.

Mere commoners have also complained about the environmental and health effects of having windmills near their homes or workplaces.  But they did not have their hands on the tillers of power and could not stop these projects from being built near them.  The Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) dynamic failed in the face of utilities, venture capitalists, and government officials plopping these projects around.  These are often in rural areas, and we know that elites, led by Barack Obama, don't have much respect or concern for hayseeds who live outside Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and other bastions of sophisticated civilization.  There are not many voters and very few donors to care about in those neighborhoods.

Government mandates regarding percentages of utility power that must come from renewables worsen the problem since this is just one more means of subsidizing grossly inefficient ways to generate power.  They would never be built without governments finagling the rules and balance sheets to rig the game to keep them alive.  Without these incentives, they would die.  Those vast solar power plantations and windmill farms will be the 21st century's industrial ghost towns.

The federal and state governments have been giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to get American companies to invest in green energy plants here in America.  In reality, all too often, these companies take the money and China.  The products are then made there.  Again, American money (much of it deriving from the "stimulus" program) is flowing to China to save and create jobs over there.

The Chinese are laughing all the way to their banks.  So are the venture capitalists and green promoters who have benefited from their campaign donations to Democrats and the Democratic Party.

Will Barack Obama do his labor allies another solid favor during his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao?  Will Obama bring up complaints that China is violating World Trade Organization rules by unfairly subsidizing manufacturers of green energy products at the expense of union laborers here in America?

Why ruin a good party and upset the environmental theologians Barack Obama considers experts and geniuses?

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.
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