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CFL subsidy

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15824
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
This thread is for talking about the "CFL Susidies" segment of my CFL Fluorescent light bulbs are a RIP OFF! article.

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Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
One of the claims made for the decreasing consumer cost of the CFL lamp is that it is being subsidized by government. Yes I have seen various promotions, coupons and rebates. But the fact remains that the shelf price today runs from $1 to $2. Why is it assumed there must be government subsidies, overt or covert, to achieve that lower pricing?

Like all manufactured items I believe it is safe to say the cost of the incandescent light bulb has dropped considerably since they were introduced commercially in the late 1800's. I do not have any historical sales figures but experience with many other manufactured items should bear this out. There is a Wikipedia entry that makes the claim that "By 1964, improvements in efficiency and production of incandescent lamps had reduced the cost of providing a given quantity of light by a factor of thirty, compared with the cost at introduction of Edison's lighting system [29]"

So is it impossible for the same economies of production to result in, or at least contribute to, today's lower cost price of CFL lamps?

tel jetson

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3120
Location: woodland, washington
the life cycle analysis I saw of compact fluorescent lamps indicated they take a lot more energy to produce and a wider variety of raw materials.  that may change over time.

the last time I bought compact fluorescent bulbs was in Seattle a couple of years ago.  there was a display indicating that the special low price was due to support from Seattle City Light.  prior to that, I bought some from a hardware store in Woodland, Washington.  they were on special due to support from the Cowlitz County Public Utility Department.

those are just anecdotes, but maybe indicative of a larger pattern.  I don't know.

after dropping and breaking three CFLs in two years, I don't buy them anymore.  we've still got quite a few around that I'll use and recycle when they're done, but I'm just too clumsy to be bringing more mercury into my home.

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Joined: May 26, 2010
Posts: 278
Location: Iowa, border of regions 5 and 6
I'm not buying any more CFLs.  I'm buying incandescent bulbs while I still can, and stockpiling them.  Those blessed things burned out faster than the incandescent bulbs; and you can't throw them away.  I had to store them in my closet until I had a load large enough to make it worth my while to drive to the one place in the county that could deal with that kind of hazardous waste.
travis laduke

Joined: Jul 20, 2010
Posts: 163
heh, I'm trying to internet search for "cfl subsidy" and this thread, and the article on richsoil are in teh top 4 hits

Joined: Nov 16, 2010
Posts: 1
What is the section named "CFL Subsidy", and listed at the top of the page as "CFLs are subsidized to make them appear cheaper", intended to prove? Its first link is a year-old NYT article that says that there was a push to remove subsidies a year ago and that "Non-incentivized prices for C.F.L.s have come down dramatically in the last few years." The second link... is a blog post about the same NYT article.

The section originally said that CFLs were subsidized by up to $40 per bulb.  You've removed that claim, but the section now doesn't have a thesis, so why is it there? I think it's there to muddy the waters. You're trying to give the impression that CFLs are oversubsidized, but either haven't done the research to prove it, or didn't like what your research found. Maybe CFLs are oversubsidized. Maybe not. What's certain is that readers of your article won't know either, but will probably feel that they are. The whole section reeks of "truthiness."

You've generally been responsive to constructive criticism and deserve credit for that. This section should actually have a purpose and provide citations, or be removed.
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15824
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)

I used to work for the northwest power planning council.  The idea is that if we use less energy, then there are all sorts of perks at all sorts of levels.  From the perspective of the council, they don't have to build a new power plant. 

There are other missions at other levels, and there are subsidies all over the place. 

My thinking is that over the next week I'll get all sort of email with links to all that stuff so I don't have to go on a four hour fishing expedition. 

There is some price drop that has occurred over the year due to higher production.  And I think I showed that.  The price used to be $20 per bulb.  In my table, I show a speculative price of $12. 

The first link has a link to:  "CFL s are a significant, and often primary, source of Demand Side Management (DSM ) program energy savings. CFL programs have contributed more than 60 percent of energy savings of the most established energy efficiency program sponsors (EEPS), and 20−97 percent of savings for newer programs. Regional differences in CFL promotions are apparent, with the greatest spending in California and the Northeast. California leads the way, with $88 million projected for 2008, accounting for over half of reported national CFL program spending."

The key is that there are a lot of subsidies coming from a lot of branches of government and a lot of energy interests.

I have been on the phone most of today and a good part of yesterday talking to people about this stuff.  And I already have about 35 to 40 hours put into this.  As with all of my articles, they will morph in time as more information comes out.  I hope that soon we can get some idea of how much a light bulb might cost unsubidized.  For now, there is clear evidence that there IS subsidy at a national level, a state level and from power companies.  And, the article shows the math both with and without subsidy.


The stuff about subsidy is where the article started and now I've put it into something of a back seat.  The amount of money being spent is huge, but since it changes from county to county, it is challenging to investigate and accurately write about.   

Since the article makes an excellent point (IMOO) without the subsidies, then I made the subsidy stuff more of a "frosting on the cake" thing for the article (until harder data can be presented). 

I think any subsidy of CFLs is misplaced.  If they have all the perks which they claim (and they don't) then they should be able to blaze a trail without subsidy. 

If the mission to save money is so important that we need to pay billions of dollars for subsidies, how about channeling the advertising into something that says "Hey, if you are at home by yourself and you have more than two lights on right now, you could save a lot of money by turning some lights off."  Or a trip to somebody's house where they have 50 lights on and show some super huge power bill.  And then turn off a few lights and show a way smaller power bill. 

Based on the stats I've seen for what is spent in american households on lighting, I cannot help but think that most american households have 50 lights on nearly all day and all night.    Getting these people to turn off a few lights is going to do far more than getting them to switch to fluorescent.

peter dublin

Joined: Feb 22, 2011
Posts: 38
the CFL push in these ways is rarely mentioned elsewhere on line

I cover the issue on my website, which may be of interest

= The Politics behind banning Light Bulbs:
The involvement of manufacturers and other vested interests
in pushing CFLs and seeking incandescent regulation,
as seen by official USA and EU documentation and communications
listed and quoted

peter dublin

Joined: Feb 22, 2011
Posts: 38

paul wheaton wrote:
This thread is for talking about the "CFL Susidies" segment of my CFL Fluorescent Light Bulbs are a RIP OFF! article.

Re the Greenwashing Lamps reference in it as you see
I was pretty involved with those links etc
Suzy Bean

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
Paul and Andrew discuss CFL fluorescent lightbulbs in this podcast: podcast

They talk about subsidies.
ellen kardl

Joined: May 11, 2011
Posts: 50
have you seen this rant on CF bulbs?

I love this guy's rants against stupidity.
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15824
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
My brand new video that spends a fair bit of time on CFL subsidies

Susan Noyes

Joined: Dec 06, 2011
Posts: 50
Location: Dallas TX
Thanks for doin' the time - I think it was time well spent. I've just shared on facebook and i'm hoping for lots of shares from friends and family (only one other permaculturist in my family right now but I'm trying extremely hard to increase that number)!
Peter Hartman

Joined: Jun 21, 2011
Posts: 118
Location: springfield, MO
Great Video.
subject: CFL subsidy