States, NGOs sue DOE for reversing lightbulb standards as global energy efficiency progress stalls

Source: By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive • Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2019

At issue are federal standards scheduled to come into effect in 2020 that would require “general service lamps” — a broad category of everyday lightbulbs — to use about 65% less energy than incandescent bulbs while still producing the same amount of light. That rule would effectively phase incandescent and halogen bulbs out of the market unless they were redesigned, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the environmental groups suing the DOE.

The Obama DOE had decided to expand the definition of “general service lamps” to include many common lightbulbs designed to go into about 2.7 billion sockets in the U.S., like the three-way, flame- or candle-shaped, and globe-shaped bulbs used in bathroom vanities, the NRDC said in a statement.

But under Trump, the DOE concluded that broadening the definition exceeded its legal authority and withdrew the Obama decision.

In their lawsuit, the attorneys general argue that by reversing the 2017 rules, the DOE is in effect enacting a less stringent standard that violates the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. As a result, consumers will have to pay an extra $12 billion a year in electricity costs by 2025, according to statements from the NGOS and attorneys general behind the suits.

The parties also filed comments the same day opposing the separate but related DOE decision to not make standards for common pear-shaped incandescent bulbs more stringent. The attorneys general contend that the DOE’s own analysis shows that increasing standards for incandescent bulbs would lead to $4.171 billion of net present value due to consumers switching to more efficient bulbs.

Both suits petition the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York for review of the DOE’s final rule retracting the Obama Administration’s expansion of the general service lamp category. After procedural filings over the next month, the groups will then brief the court on the merits of their case, NRDC spokesman Pat Remick said in an email.

The NRDC and other groups see the lightbulb issue as an example of a broader pattern of the U.S. falling behind the rest of the world on efficiency under Trump. “It’s not only illegal to backtrack on energy efficiency standards, the United States will become the dumping ground for the inefficient incandescent and halogen models already banned in Europe and being phased out by countries around the world,” NRDC Climate and Clean Energy Program Senior Director Kit Kennedy said in the statement.

Energy intensity fell by 1.2% around the world in 2018, meaning the global economy requires an average of 1.2% less energy to produce one unit of GDP than in 2017, the International Energy Agency said in its Nov. 4 annual report on energy efficiency. That is the lowest rate of improvement of energy intensity the IEA has measured in a decade, and lower than the 3% rate that the agency considers to be the minimum to “achieving climate and energy goals.”

Alliance to Save Energy President Jason Hartke said the IEA report indicates the U.S. is not demonstrating global leadership and needs more “robust” policies to encourage efficiency improvements. “We know we cannot meet our climate goals without realizing the full potential of energy efficiency, which is the most effective, fastest, and cheapest solution in the toolbox. Yet this report finds that we are off track,” Hartke said in a statement.

The Alliance to Save Energy recently issued its own study that found policymakers are often understating the efficiency savings that can come from upgrading lighting systems by not counting the additional savings that can come from not only replacing older bulbs with LEDs, but also installing networked lighting controls that allow lights to be programmed and automated. The combination of more efficient lighting technology with the networked controls increases the lifetime energy savings of a project to only install controls by 22% on average, the study found.

DOE declined to comment.