Alliance to Save Energy's Callahan weighs in on light bulb debate

Are the United States' energy efficient lighting standards an example of government overreach? During today's OnPoint, Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, weighs in on the debate brewing on Capitol Hill over the use of incandescent light bulbs. She also discusses the prospects for efficiency measures in a Clean Energy Standard or other energy package.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. It's great to see you again, Kateri.

Kateri Callahan: So good to see you again.

Monica Trauzzi: Kateri, the debate over energy efficient lighting standards has been heating up on the Hill recently. Why have lightbulbs become such a hot topic in Washington, DC?

Kateri Callahan: Well, you know, I think it's -- because it's something that everyone has in their home it's very iconic and I really believe that it's being used to have a political debate about whether or not we ought to have further regulation in this country. And, you know, how involved the government should be in our lives. So that's the debate and it's very unfortunate that it's happening around the light bulb. Because the light bulb standards that were put in place way back in 2007 were ones that were negotiated by the manufacturers and the advocates and the government officials that put the legislation forward. Everyone's in agreement. The manufacturers are making lightbulbs that can meet the standards. They're actually adding jobs to make the new efficient technology. So it's really a shame, Monica, that this is getting caught up in a broader political debate where the loser is going to be the American consumer.

Monica Trauzzi: Like you said, this law has been around for a couple of years now. What's changed in the market? Has something changed in the market that caused this debate to start up now?

Kateri Callahan: I don't think that it's a change in the market, because if you look at the statistics that are coming out -- NEMA, the National Electric Manufacturers Association, showed in the last quarter of 2010 that CFLs were almost half of the market. There have been surveys that have been done that about 85 percent of Americans have switched out at least one bulb in their home with a CFL and they're reporting that they really like the technology. They're satisfied with it to very satisfied with it. And you're seeing, you know, there's a total, total misunderstanding and I don't know whether it's being put out there intentionally or not, but that you're only going to be able to choose CFLs. That's just not the case. Incandescents are still going to be a technology on the market. It's halogen incandescent. They're just going to be much more efficient, 25 to 30 percent more efficient and you have LEDs. So in the marketplace, there's a wide variety of choices. People are already moving to prefer these more efficient technologies and this is just going to speed that day up and make sure that folks that aren't as aware about what's going on or not paying attention to how much they're paying in energy bills, aren't allowed to choose the inefficient bulbs that just waste energy.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Rand Paul has argued that this is about restricting consumer choices. You don't quite see it that way though?

Kateri Callahan: Absolutely not. You know, the choice that you're not going to be able to make is to put 135-year-old technology in that only 10 percent of the energy that's used comes out in light. The rest is wasted in the heat. And they don't last very long. So they're cheap to buy and people think that they're saving money because they're only spending a quarter on the product, but, over the life of the bulb, they're going to spend about $50 more than if they put one of the more efficient choices in. So, again, they're going to-people can still choose incandescent lighting that's totally dimmable, that comes on right away, no wait, that puts out all different kinds of spectrum of light. They're going to have LEDs which can last 15 to 20 times as long as that incandescent bulb. And they're going to have CFLs, which is a technology that is improving rapidly. So, lots of choice in the marketplace, just not the junk.

Monica Trauzzi: If Congress isn't even able to come to a long-term agreement on lightbulbs, how are they possibly going to agree on larger energy efficiency measures like a clean energy standard for example?

Kateri Callahan: Right. Well, let me just say that for the past almost 30 years, we have been putting, in this country, appliance and equipment standards in place. We have energy efficiency standards for clothes washers, for dishwashers, all kinds of appliances and these have never met with any fear. The example we love to talk about is the refrigerator. Because a refrigerator today, thanks to the efficiency standards that got more stringent over time, a refrigerator today is about 75 percent more efficient than one that was built in the 70s and it's bigger and, oh, by the way, if performs better. So, that's the kind of thing you get and that's a story we're going to have to continue to tell. There is bipartisan agreement on standards. You have Senator Bingaman and Senator Murkowski reintroducing a large standards bill that will put standards on a wide variety of appliances, all of them have been negotiated and agreed to by the manufacturers. So, I think we can get agreement on these things. I think we have to get by the by of this philosophical political debate. But these are things that are good for the country and good for consumers. Getting into a clean energy standard, that's going to be a much, much stickier widget. So I think for us, as the Alliance to Save Energy, we're going to focus on the energy efficiency and where that's a nonpartisan win/win/win solution and we think we can actually get some good strong legislation through.

Monica Trauzzi: And there's some question as to where efficiency measures would fit in, whether they should be included in a clean energy standard or not. Do you think they should or do you think that hurts the chances of efficiency measures passing this year if it is part of an overall CES package?

Kateri Callahan: Well, I think, you know, we're taking a couple of different approaches. We're supporting some standalone efficiency bills like the standards bill that Senators Bingaman and Murkowski are putting forward. We're working with Senator Jeanne Shaheen who's putting together a comprehensive package of energy efficiency provisions, so building codes, appliance standards, incentives and she wants to put that in as a bipartisan bill. So we'll try to push at that. I don't know whether there will be an energy efficiency resource standard in that or a clean energy standard, but we'll be pushing at that as well. With respect to a clean energy standard, our belief on that is that energy efficiency ought to be treated as what it truly is, which is the first and best fuel of choice. So we believe that any clean energy standard ought to treat energy efficiency as a resource, just like it would renewables or nuclear or any other resource that's deemed to be clean and under the standard. So we ought to be able to demonstrate 100 percent compliance with energy efficiency. And if that energy, clean energy standard is part of an efficiency bill, to answer your question directly, I think it makes it harder to get through. So, again, I think our notion would be let's just push at all the things that we can get agreement on, because we're not going to have a lot of time once they get through the whole budget debate and the debt ceiling debate to really get legislation going. So we really want to push at where that sweet spot is and do things that are good for the American people right now.

Monica Trauzzi: Based on your discussions with folks on the Hill, what's the appetite for energy policy this year?

Kateri Callahan: Well, for energy policy that you around energy efficiency, I think there's actually some good appetite. And we've been talking to a lot of the new members, a lot of Republicans. As I said, Senator Shaheen, who's on the energy committee wants to put forward a bill. Senators Bingaman and Murkowski already have been having hearings on the energy efficiency bills. I think there's some interest there and I think people recognize that if we can get anything through, that's likely to be the thing that we can get through. And everyone is keeping their eye on the price of gasoline, because when that goes high, things can happen on the policy front. Because members are going to want to respond to their constituents hurting at home. And if we have energy efficiency bills there and they are introduced by members of the Republican Party and members of the Democratic Party and we can show they're going to save consumers money, then I think we can maybe get something through. My bet is that the price of gasoline goes higher this summer than it did in the summer of 2008 when we were getting right at the edge of the economic downturn. It went to about $4.14 at its height then. I think we could see it go higher than that and maybe possibly hit five dollars a gallon or more by the middle of the summer.

Monica Trauzzi: Wow. And what do you think the impacts of the Japanese nuclear disaster will be on energy policy moving forward this year?

Kateri Callahan: Yeah, I think, first of all, I have to take a moment and say how horrible the tragedy is over there, on all fronts, not just the nuclear, but the tsunami and we feel for the people. In terms of what it's going to do, I think -- what I hope we learned from it is that -- you know, and take away one thing, is that all energy resources that we use and energy that we use comes with impacts. And impacts in terms of safety, energy security and the environment. So I believe the best and smartest thing to do is to use energy efficiency as your first resource and let's do as much as we can there because it has zero environmental footprint. And it's taking a resource from a really large pool, which is the waste that we have, so why not do that first? Focus on it, rather than trying to trying to drive at putting more supply on that comes with consequences. It's not to say we can get everything we need with energy efficiency. Of course, we can't. But every study, study after study after study says that we can get a lot of what we're going to need from it, just from the energy we waste, from energy efficiency. We can do a lot.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show again.

Kateri Callahan: Thanks, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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