Building a Better Light Bulb -- at a Cost

Osram Sylvania Inc. says a more efficient version of its BR30 light bulb may cost more or burn out sooner.
Osram Sylvania Inc. says a more efficient version of its BR30 light bulb may cost more or burn out sooner. (Osram Sylvania Inc.)
By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 22, 2006

For now, Osram Sylvania Inc. can ship its bulbs to all 50 states. But in 2007, the lighting giant will face a manufacturing and distribution headache: It will be forced to stop sending two types of common household flood lights to stores in Oregon and Washington state because the bulbs do not meet new state energy-efficiency requirements.

Even though the move affects only a couple of bulbs that sell for less than $6, it represents a trend: More states are setting their own energy policies for residential and commercial appliances in an effort to reduce electricity demand and power plant pollution.

Consumers everywhere may eventually feel an impact. New standards in California already are causing at least one company to scrap development of a television set planned for nationwide sale. Some companies are being forced to consider making special products for certain states.

And retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City are scrambling to figure out if they will be able to continue stocking certain products in California.

The patchwork of regulations is reflected in the Washington area, where Maryland has set standards for many commercial appliances -- including refrigerators and freezers -- while Virginia and the District have not.

Efficiency advocates say the requirements will save energy. "It's getting the least-efficient stuff off the market," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, an advocacy group in Boston.

But manufacturers say the rules could drive up consumer prices. "We've got to make sure that we don't have to do business in 50 states differently," said Thomas B. Patton, vice president of government relations for Philips Electronics North America Corp.

JVC halted development of a 24-inch television that would not have met California's standards requiring televisions to draw no more than 3 watts of electricity when they are turned off. Sets often consume power while turned off so that they can be switched on quickly and maintain time and channel settings in memory.

Phone maker Uniden says it is struggling to find a manufacturer for external power supplies -- the small, brick-shaped devices attached to power cords -- that will protect cordless phones against electrical storm damage while meeting new standards in California.

As for Sylvania and other light bulb makers, they are confronting regulations dictating how much light reflector floodlights have to produce per watt.

Sylvania has decided to stop shipping its 50- and 75-watt R20 model to Oregon and Washington.

But it's still deciding whether to develop a new version of its model BR30, often used in home recessed lighting, that would meet the new standards but might cost more or burn out sooner.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company