How Many Conservatives Does it Take to Remove an Incandescent Lightbulb?

Sorry about this title, it’s just too irresistible.

After mentioning in passing Stephen Taylor’s objections to the Harper government’s announcement that it plans to ban the current incandescent bulbs from sale, I think I should go back and give credit where it’s due. I can see where Stephen is coming from in terms of the Harper government’s uncharacteristic decision to limit consumer choice, but I still say that this particular move is smart politics.

As other commentators on his post have noted, this was a pretty safe, win-win move for the Harper government. It gives a strong and measurable impression of the Conservatives getting serious on energy efficiency. Indeed, they’ve scooped the McGuinty government of Ontario, which was considering precisely this measure, and if you as a Conservative can scoop McGuinty, you have a powerful indicator to suggest that you are reaching out across the centre.

And this has the added benefit of being super-easy to implement. Indeed, the market is such that the measure might well have implemented itself without so much as a word from either McGuinty or Harper.

When I bought our house in 2001, compact fluorescent lightbulbs were the new kids on the block. They were expensive, bulky, produced a colder light, and generally were only available in the specialty sections of really large hardware stores like Home Depot, or innovative stores like Ikea. But I also had a lot of light fixtures, including a three bulb monster ceiling fan over our dining room which was burning sixty watt incandescent bulbs. I was paying directly for my electricity for the first time in my life, and a quick calculation told me that this device was burning a kilowatt of power in under six hours. Replacing these bulbs with thirteen watt compact fluorescents reduced the total wattage by almost five-sixths. So, I went a little crazy, and replaced every incandescent bulb I could get my hands on, and the result showed up on our power bill.

Since then, compact fluorescents are now available wherever you can buy an incandescent. They may be more expensive, but they definitely last longer. The first compact fluorescent bulb I installed back in 2001 has only just now burnt out. And many of the complaints about compact fluorescents are being addressed: they’re not as bulky any more, they give off a better quality of light, and versions are now available that can work with dimmer switches, and multiple-intensity light settings.

As an aside, I’m waiting for household LED lights to follow a similar process of improvement as it enters the marketplace, as I’m looking forward to reducing my ceiling fan’s wattage from thirty-nine to three. I can do it right now, but I’d have to spend over $100. But these lights are the way of the future. Even as cities gradually retrofit their incandescent traffic lights with LEDs, they will be reducing electrical demand by about two power plants. It’s small innovations like this which keep me optimistic about the future.

The incandescent light has become the universal symbol of inefficient energy use, and the marketplace knows this. The Conservative government might simply be rubber stamping a process that is already happening, but it remains an inexpensive and easy move to bolster credibility on the issue of the environment. The Conservatives were wise to take it.

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