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Lights out

The News Tribune

TACOMA, Wash. — Thomas Edison’s first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb happened 134 years ago Tuesday.

But on Wednesday, the lights dimmed for the incandescent because of federal energy efficiency standards approved in 2007.

As of Jan. 1, companies no longer can import or make 60- and 40-watt incandescent light bulbs — the most popular bulb for indoor lighting. Instead, LED (light-emitting diode) and CFL (compact fluorescent) will replace incandescents as the dominant home fixture.

The new light bulbs reduce energy use and save consumers money. Experts say 90 percent of the electricity used by traditional incandescent light bulbs is radiated in the form of heat, rather than light.

While the bulb ban prevents the manufacture or import of incandescents, shoppers still can find the bulbs on the shelves. Since people have known the ban was coming for some time, there were no last-minute crowds shopping for incandescents Tuesday, Fred Meyer spokeswoman Melinda Merrill said.

Traditional 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs were to be phased out at the beginning of 2013. Home Depot stores in some areas of the country have a six-month supply of incandescent bulbs. Merrill said Fred Meyer has a two-month supply of various incandescent bulbs.

“The CFLs have become more popular and LEDs have become more popular,” she said.

Lighting is no minor matter at the Tacoma Art Museum, where three galleries are lit with ceramic metal halide lamps. That has allowed the museum to reduce the number of fixtures it has and save money at the same time.

One gallery, which houses the museum’s collection of Chihuly glass, still uses incandescent lighting at Dale Chihuly’s request, said museum director Stephanie Stebich.

“He prefers a warmer, hotter light and it makes the vessels glow,” she said.

The museum is stockpiling some incandescent bulbs, but eventually it and the artist will have to decide what type of illumination to switch to.

“As usual we will do testing and bring the artist in,” said museum registrar Jessica Wilks. “Dale is aware of these things.”

Early on, the CFL was met with lots of criticism. The lights flickered, took a while to attain full brightness and emitted a harsher light than the warm, familiar incandescent. Much of that has changed as manufacturers began adding features.

And the price of bulbs dropped as competition increased, said Tacoma Power’s Patrick Urain, the retail program manager who concentrates on residential energy conservation.

Residents who switch out 80 percent of their old, energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs can expect to see a corresponding drop in their utility bill, between $6 and $7 per month. Urain said.

Some public utilities offer incentives to help bring down the cost of qualified CFL and LED bulbs. The utility offers incentives because when customers use less energy the utility is less likely to have to buy expensive power from outside sources to supplement demand, Urain said.

The use of LED and CFL bulbs will reduce the environmental impact of commercial and residential lighting, and save consumers money, said Kevin Hallinan, a University of Dayton engineering professor and co-founder of the school’s master’s degree program in renewable and clean energy.

“The reason why the federal government legislated the change is because these incandescent bulbs use four times or more energy than other technologies,” Hallinan said. “That’s more pollution coming out of power plants, that’s more carbon emissions, so this is really a good thing for the U.S.”

Urain said consumers need to look for an Energy Star rated bulb. Those bulbs should work as advertised in terms of energy use and the life of the bulb.

Because of the change, light bulb brightness is now rated differently. The old method, used with incandescents, was a measure of energy use. A 60-watt incandescent bulb is now roughly equivalent to a 15-watt CFL. Light output is measured in lumens. A 60-watt incandescent bulb and a 15-watt CFL will put out roughly 800 lumens, according to Tacoma Power.

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