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I personally installed CFLs in all the fixtures and lamps in my home that have shades or glass coverings. And I really haven't been able to tell the difference. But when I tried the CFLs for recessed lighting in my kitchen, they took about 30 seconds to come on and the light was extremely harsh. It was so bothersome we had to put the old ones back in. What do you say to this type of a complaint?
Levine: You probably bought the wrong ones. If you buy a bad bulb, don't equate all CFL bulbs with that.
I will tell you personally, I used to get headaches from compact fluorescents. I actually now have one as my bedside light that I read by before I go to sleep at night.
And you're saying it's because you had a different kind?
Levine: Yeah, it's a newer bulb, newer technology.
So, people who want to make the change, what should they look for on the packaging to make sure they buy the "good" CFLs as opposed to the harsh-looking ones?
Levine: Look for major manufacture labels: Philips, Sylvania, GE; there's a couple others. The ones you buy at the 99 cents store, while cheap, aren't good. Look for the Energy Star label. If you've got lights that go in dimmer switches--this is one difference between the two--compact fluorescents that are used with dimmer switches actually have to say dimmable on them. You can go find them in a lot of stores: Home Depot, Lowe's, you know, Ikea, Target. I was more successful there than I have been in grocery stores, I will tell you that.
This is just sort of a kitchen table question, but what about the fact that CFLs are more expensive initially?
In my own research, I found the average 75-watt incandescent bulb was about 82 cents, and a 20-watt CFL, the equivalent to the 75 watt, is about $4.80. That's not a big deal for you and me, but how would poor families offset the initial higher cost?
Levine: The average cost we found here is $3 versus 50 cents for comparable bulbs. That doesn't take into account that, at least in California, most of the energy companies--whether they're the investor-owned utilities or municipal utilities--engage in giveaway programs.
In my district...the department of water and power brought 1,000 lightbulbs to give away all free. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District has a program where they subsidize them at hardware stores so you can get them for about 99 cents, or two for 99 cents.
We've done things here in California that actually provide incentives to the utility companies to give away lightbulbs. We have put energy efficiency at the top of our energy loading order...so it's the first thing that they're required to invest in.
Secondly, we have broken the linkage between the profit and the energy sold. In the old model, the more energy you sold, the more money you got. We don't actually do that.
How does that work?
Levine: A very complicated formula through the Public Utilities Commission basically smooths out an average rate of return for the energy companies...If this year you sell less in California because you've engaged in energy efficiency, we still smooth out your average to make sure that your profits aren't dipping.
Levine: So because of those two incentives a lot of the companies treat energy efficiency as procurement, not just as a public benefit. And one of the things they do is give away or subsidize the sale of lightbulbs.
CFLs can't be thrown out with regular thrash. Are there measures in the final version of your bill to provide for this?
Levine: Yes, we will be engaged in an educational effort with consumers, and the recycling component would be there as well.
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Levine: You know, as a kind of half-joke, I say everybody wants the electricity but nobody wants the power plants, and everybody wants electricity but nobody wants the power line. Well, then we need to use our energy more efficiently, and this just follows in that vein.
If you can't bring yourself right now to make the switch for every light, what about your porch light? Does your porch light really have to be incandescent? You know, what about your outside lights? What about your garage lights? What about closet lights? Look around your house. How many bulbs are there that you could change that you don't read by?
Those are the kinds of changes people can start to make even if they're not going to go 100 percent. You can still make a savings, make an energy savings, make a cost savings.
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