Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Madison Landlords to City: Damn You for Your Negative-Cost Regulations!

by Tom Bozzo

Nobody should be surprised at Madison getting on the compact fluorescent (CFL) bandwagon. A little more surprising is the relatively mild form of the first proposed regulations. Following a suggestion from the Sierra Club, city council president Austin King has proposed a measure requiring CFLs in common area fixtures for older multiunit buildings as well as for suitable hard-wired fixtures within the buildings proper.

Reading the story in this morning's State Journal, I was waiting for the inevitable negative reaction from some local business association — the Chamber of Commerce or the like. Just what limb would one such an org amputate to avoid a dreaded mandate? I was not disappointed. The WSJ quoted Eileen Bruskewitz of the Madison Slumlords Landlords Council:
This is not something that needs to be regulated. This is the Progressive Dane approach to telling people how they should live.
This is Totally Stupid. The simple economic Fact O' The Matter is that at current CFL prices, you can replace any incandescent bulb with a CFL, and in doing so you'd put money in your pocket: the CFL bulb returns far more than its price in energy savings. This is true, even, of expensive bulbs like the dimmable CFL floodlights we installed in our kitchen and family room. This is true even if you count the cost of properly recycling burnt-out bulbs. So Bruskewitz is actually asking the city council for leave for her association's members to piss money away. Bad, bad Progressive Dane for stopping them from doing so! As it happens, my former 8-unit apartment building, which I gathered to be of late-eighties or early-90s vintage (and thus probably subject to the proposed ordinance), used CFLs in common areas in the late-90s, when electricity prices were lower and CFL prices much higher, still for fairly obvious total-cost reasons.

Seconarily, Bruskewitz suggests that tenants might not want CFLs in their living spaces. This is a stupid argument, too. The illumination quality of modern CFLs is essentially indistinguishable from comparable incandescents. (That is, there are CFLs that have similar qualities to both soft-white and full-spectrum incandescents.) Plus, I'd be surprised if tenants would actually be willing to pay to replace a CFL with an incandescent bulb in a hardwired fixture.

The case of the CFL is, in my view, a signal failure of the H. economicus model. If people really could evaluate the full cost of lightbulb purchase decisions, the market for incandescents would have collapsed some time ago. Accordingly, I support regulations that would more-or-less ban the sale of incandescents. (I'd carve out an exception for low-wattage bulbs. Full disclosure: our front hallway fixture [in a 1930 house] is an antique that uses four 25-watt exposed-bulb incandescents. I judge such things to be insigificant in the grander scheme.)

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Has anyone considered how much additional mercury will be deposited back into the water because people will simply throw away CFL bulbs when they need to be replaced? Incandescents DO NOT contain mercury, CFLs do! The problem I have is that as usual, progressives are quick to embrace ideas that make them feel good about themselves, but they are usually very short on doing the math and working the problems al the way through! We dont have a recycling program for CFL's like they have in Japan, there was just a story on NPR about this two weeks ago. Recycling costs haven't even been hinted at by Common Council!

PS: I have two CFL's at home, they suck. Takes 5 min. to get bright, weird unnatural light!
I would agree with you that education on CFL recycling will be important as mandates come into play, and the present arrangements that rely on peoples' willingness to pay recycling fees at hardware stores are inadequate. On the other hand, the extra coal burnt to power incandescents isn't environmentally neutral, either.

I do expect that CFLs will sooner or later give way to LEDs, not least because LEDs are environmentally friendlier and even more efficient.

Recycling costs don't factor significantly in the economics of CFLs. I think retail collection fees are something in the ballpark of $2/bulb from what I've seen at area hardware stores. Since the per-bulb CFL net saving is in the ballpark of $30, there's no financial excuse not to handle expired bulbs properly.

As for the CFL experience, YMMV. We have around 20 installed throughout our house, and I've found the light quality from 'soft white' CFLs to be substantially indistinguishable from incandescents -- and the warmup period is a few seconds, not a few minutes. Collectively, they reduce our lighting-related electricity demand by about a kilowatt for our most-used lights, and that has a noticeable effect on our electric bills.
I'm thrilled you are happy with your CFL's. However, JUST MAYBE not everyone else is! Has that even crossed your mind? Why must others be forced into your way of thinking? BTW, if you can't tell the difference between CFL soft white and incandescent soft white, you should consult a color temp chart. They are considerably different! And it takes substantially more than the few seconds you claim for them to reach full output. I have them in a home office, and I'm reminded of that every night when I go in to the recycling fee, not to mention people are just going to throw out the old ones, which is problematic. Oh, not to mention the extra gas to run the old ones to the hardware store for recycling....but regardless, just continue to push your ways onto everyone else, right? Why must "progressive" always mean arrogant? Thought you guys were supposed to be the tolerant ones!
So why exactly do you keep CFLs that you hate?

The recycling costs are substantially irrelevant to the net energy savings.
I find that some of the CFLs I've placed in our home have a slight flicker. Its enough that I put the old standard bulbs back in.
Again, YMMV -- we have a lot of CFLs in the house with no complaints as to light quality. FYI, as Consumer Reports notes, Energy Star bulbs have to meet a variety of light-quality standards and aren't supposed to buzz; some very inexpensive CFLs aren't certified.
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