Background: California and Energy Efficiency

Energy is a critical issue for California, and with a state population on the rise coupled with a desire to decrease the state's production of green house gasses, compact fluorescents are a logical choice.

California has a long tradition of energy innovation. Indeed, it was among the first US states to implement energy efficiency measures. In 1974 it created a new state agency with the specific responsibility for energy efficiency. Additionally, California was notably the first state to implement comprehensive energy efficiency standards for buildings.

However, California still has some pressing energy problems. California's electricity prices remain among the highest in the country. A considerable share of these costs are a result of lighting. Indeed, California consumers, businesses and government currently pay more than $6.3 billion annually in energy costs for lighting and the average California household spends $816 annually to power lights in their home. Using currently available lighting technologies, California has the potential to reduce this economic burden by 2 to 3 billion dollars annually and obtain considerable reductions in green house gas emissions.

Why New Lighting Technologies Can Help Reduce Pollution

A wide range of energy-saving light bulbs are available on the market today. The most common and most widely known is compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).

While California leads the nation in the use of CFL's, CFL market share after peaking at about 9% during the height of the energy crisis in 2001 average about 5% to 6% for the last 2 years (compared to just 1% to 2% for the country).

If advanced lighting technologies were fully applied in California, the resulting electricity savings would negate the need for 15 1,000-megawatt power plants. Doing this would save ratepayers $4 billion a year just on the cost of operating those plants (never mind the cost of building them).

In addition to ratepayer savings, the reduced energy demand will eliminate the pollution associated with this energy generation, including and annual reduction of:

  • NOx emissions by 2,800 tons
  • SOx emissions by 9,400 tons
  • CO2 (GHG) emissions by more than 6,000,000 tons

By transitioning to currently available efficient lighting technologies, California can reduce electric demand for the same level of lighting by 50 percent in 10 years.

Net Reduction in Mercury emissions

Roughly 20 percent of California's annual energy capacity is provided by coal fired power plants. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury air pollution, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all mercury emissions nationwide.

Mercury is a highly toxic metal that, once released into the atmosphere, settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans. An extremely potent neurotoxin, one tablespoon of mercury is enough to pollute a 20 acre lake beyond acceptable health standards. The Centers for Disease Control has found that roughly 10 percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk to neurological damage.

California coal-fired energy providers are responsible for more than 1600 lbs of mercury emissions annually. Reducing California's lighting energy demand by 50 percent can reduce these emissions by 175-200 lbs annually.

Another source of mercury emissions in the environment is the illegal disposal of mercury containing fluorescent lamps. Mercury levels vary significantly by lamp manufacturer, and range from a low of 2.2 mgs to as much as 15 mgs in 12 foot tubes. But the amount in CFLs is gradually decreasing as manufacturers work on lowering levels of mercury in their products. Also, using CFLs instead of incandescents actually reduces the amount of mercury as we will not need to mine coal for electricity. Because incandescents use much more electricity, using CFLs actually reduces mercury pollution because they use less electricity.

What is happening now?

  • In 2007, CAW-sponsored AB 1109 (Huffman), which will substantially increase energy efficiency while reduce pollution from lighting sources and create convenient recycling opportunities as well. The bill was signed by the Governor in October 2007.
  • The U.S. Congress is currently working on new nationwide energy efficiency standards, of which could include phasing out the use of incandescent bulbs in ten years.
  • Currently, IrelandAustraliaCanada and the European Union are all banning or have plans to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs.
  • The Department of Toxic Substances Control has recently released the AB 1109 Lighting Task Force Report and it is now available online.  The report is a culmination of a lot of hard work and collaboration by a diverse group of stakeholders with a common cause- developing a more cost-efficient and convenient recycling program for Compact Fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) that is free to the public. CAW's executive director was on the Task Force as a representative of environmental groups. The report included the group's recommendation on collection, recycling, education and outreach, labeling and designation of CFLs.
  • In 2009, CAW-sponsored AB 1173 (Huffman), which would have created free and convenient in-store collection opportunities for the recycling of residential fluorescent lamps for consumers, was vetoed by the Governor.
  • AB 2176 (Blumenfield), the California Lighting Toxics Reduction and Recycling Bill, introduced in 2010, would have established a product stewardship program for mercury-containing lamps and a fee on lamps that does not contain mercury, but are deemed less energy-efficient.  The bill died in Fiscal committee.

Remember to Recycle Your Unwanted Lights!