Lighting Industry Sues to Stop New Efficiency Standards

An energy-efficient multi-colored LED lightbulb is illuminated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, 2016.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Two lighting industry groups are suing California to stop new light bulb efficiency standards from taking effect next week. The standards that take effect Jan. 1 will effectively remove most incandescent and halogen bulbs from store shelves.

The commission estimates this will save business and households between $736 million and $2.4 billion in energy costs each year, because the new standards require bulbs to produce about three times more light per watt of energy used.  The average incandescent bulb produces 11-16 lumens per watt; the new standard requires all general purpose light bulbs sold in California for home use to produce 45 lumens per watt.

Last month on, Nov. 13, the California Energy Commission adopted rules to expand which bulbs the standards applied to. For example, candle-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers are now included, but the bulbs used in appliances or in bug lamps are not.

However, in a lawsuit filed this month two industry groups, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the American Lighting Association, asked the court to reverse the expansion, citing harm to manufacturers, retailers and consumers, and claiming market forces will take care of the transition to more efficient light bulbs.

The state energy commission says unless it hears from the courts, it will proceed as planned.

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The backdrop of the updated standards (and associated lawsuit) stretch back to the George W. Bush administration. In 2007, President Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act, requiring lower energy use from "general service lamps" — loosely defined as general purpose light bulbs.

The act gave California and Nevada the right to implement standards earlier than other states. So, while the rest of the country switched from tungsten filament to halogen incandescents between 2012-14, in California and Nevada made the switch in 2011-13.

The act also dictated that the Department of Energy would set energy efficiency standards for "general service" bulbs to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. If they didn't (and they did not), the standard of 45 lumens per watt would go into effect.

Amid all of that, the Obama administration in 2017 expanded the scope of which bulbs would be considered "general service" to include 3-way incandescent bulbs, among others. The Trump administration rolled those back in September of this year.

This prompted a lawsuit opposing the rollback from the city of New York and the attorneys general of California, New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

The results of both lawsuits are pending.