This is the second of three posts about the regulation of general service lamps pursuant to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Read the first one here

There is a long history of U.S. energy efficiency law treating standard “general service” light bulbs differently than non-standard light bulbs such as reflector lamps*, lamps with odd bulb shapes, non-medium screw base lamps, and lamps designed and marketed to serve niche applications.  Congress has made this clear by stating that these non-standard light bulbs are “not included” in the statutory definitions of general-service incandescent lamp, and general-service lamp.

In 1992, Congress began regulating the energy efficiency of incandescent light bulbs for the first time.  The legislation focused on incandescent lamps with a medium screw base and a voltage range (then 115 – 130 volts) typical of all U.S. households.  The legislation recognized a distinction between incandescent lamps that were reflector bulbs and those that were “non-reflector” light bulbs and treated them differently.   Congress enacted energy conservation standards for the incandescent reflector lamp but did not do so for what it called the “general-service incandescent lamp,” which is the “standard” non-reflector lamp with a pear-shaped bulb that occupied the vast majority of lighting applications at the time.  Instead, Congress directed the Secretary of Energy to determine whether standards should be applied to the general-service incandescent lamp.

There were practical reasons for this differential treatment.  In 1992, there were incandescent reflector lamps that were more efficient than other incandescent reflector lamps, and a standard could be applied that distinguished between the two that removed the less efficient bulbs from the market without sacrificing other lighting attributes desired by consumers.  That was not true at the time for the general-service incandescent bulb:  Legislation eliminating high wattage bulbs (e.g. 100W) would mean bulbs with higher light output (lumens) would no longer be available, and legislation reducing wattage would result in shorter life lamps, forcing consumers to replace light bulbs more frequently with no economic savings.

Equally important, reflector and non-reflector lamps are designed differently to satisfy diverse performance criteria.  The bulb shapes drive the light output – general-service incandescent lamps are omnidirectional because of their pear shape.  The reflector lamp is directional because of their conical shape.  Unlike omnidirectional lamps, where almost all of the light output from the lamp can effectively and efficiently leave the lamp to enter a room and provide lighting, a reflector lamp has to “reflect” or “bounce” the light rays in the direction of the lens.  While some of the light will leave the directional lamp going in the right direction, all other light rays must be redirected to go in the same direction.   Every time a light ray reflects or bounces off of a reflecting surface, some of the light is absorbed into the surface of the reflecting material. No surface is 100% reflective.  Some light rays will reflect or bounce multiple times before they exit the lamp.  Some light rays will never exit the lamp.  This redirection and absorption mean that the efficiency of a directional lamp will always be lower than that of an omnidirectional lamp.

Omnidirectional and directional lamps require different energy conservation standards because they are designed differently, and they perform differently.

Congress also distinguished a host of specialty lamps that it said were “not included” in the definition of the “general-service incandescent lamp.”  These are lamps that are not used in consumer applications like traffic signals, airports, marine, projectors, mills, mines, trains, medical and microscopes, as well as consumer products such as decorative, showcase, colored lights, heat lamps, appliance, shatter-resistant, and swimming pool bulbs.  While the Secretary of Energy could conceivably regulate some of these specialty lamps if certain conditions are satisfied under general authority granted in the statute, the Secretary could not regulate them as general-service incandescent lamps because Congress said they are not “general service.”  A complementary approach was taken in the definition of the general-service fluorescent lamp (tubes), which said the general-service fluorescent lamp did not include plant lights, shatter-resistant, reflectorized, UV, colored, or certain types of fluorescent lamps designed for niche applications.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) maintained the dichotomy between general service incandescent lamps, on the one hand, and reflector and other specialty lamps on the other.  The big change in the intervening 15 years since 1992 was that there was now a means to make a general-service incandescent lamp more efficient utilizing halogen gas technology — without sacrificing light output or lamp life.  Congress enacted energy conservation standards for the general-service incandescent lamp that reduced its energy consumption by 28 percent.  Congress was focused on the standard pear-shaped light bulb and tweaked the definition of the general-service incandescent lamp by referring to the “standard incandescent or halogen-type lamp” with a medium screw base and lumen range from 310 – 2600 lumens capable of being operated at standard residential voltages of 110-130 volts.

Congress continued to regulate the incandescent reflector lamp separately from the general-service incandescent bulb, and for the first time applied different standards to the elliptical reflector and bulged reflector lamps, as well as to reflector lamps with slightly smaller diameters.  Furthermore, Congress spelled out distinct energy conservation standards for decorative lamps with smaller candelabra and intermediate bases for the first time by capping their wattages at 60 watts and 40 watts respectively.

In EISA, Congress supplemented the list of medium-base incandescent lamps that were “not included” in the definition of general-service incandescent lamps, adding black light, bug, plant, rough service, silver bowl, 3-way, vibration service, globe (G-shape), tubular (T shape), and decorative candle lamps.  Reflector lamps were also added the list to reinforce what the statute already recognized:  incandescent reflector lamps are not general-service incandescent lamps or general-service lamps.

NEMA has objected to the Secretary of Energy acting contrary to the clearly expressed intent of Congress, which was to avoid treating (and regulating) reflector and other specialty lamps as general-service lamps.  That does not mean, however, that the Secretary of Energy is without other authority to consider energy savings opportunities for these non-standard lamps.

The energy efficiency of incandescent reflector lamps is long-regulated, and another round of DOE rulemaking looking to determine whether or not to amend or adopt standards for these lamps can be expected in the near future.  The same is true for candelabra-base and intermediate-base incandescent lamps — if economically justified.  Congress provided a unique regulatory pathway and standards guidelines for a three-way, rough service, vibration service, and shatter-resistant incandescent lamps.  These have already been implemented for rough service and vibration service lamps.  Under general authority granted by the statute, the Secretary of Energy still has the authority to regulate the other specialty lamps if certain conditions are met, but the Secretary cannot regulate them as general-service incandescent lamps.  Nor can the Secretary regulate them as general-service lamps, because EISA plainly and unambiguously states that the term “general service lamp” does not include the lamps serving the special applications or bulb shapes (including reflector lamps) on the list of lamps “not included” in general service incandescent lamps.  EISA then repeats itself in the case of reflector lamps by stating specifically that incandescent reflector lamps are “not included” in the definition of general service lamp.

The energy conservation regulatory pathway for these non-standard types of light bulbs is specifically set out in the legislation enacted by Congress.  This pathway does not include regulating them as general-service incandescent lamps or general service lamps.  In EISA, Congress specifically stated that the Secretary could determine whether or not to adopt standards for certain incandescent lamps that were exempt from regulation under the statute.  That course of action may or may not prove to be an opportunity for future energy savings, but under the structure of the statute that Congress has written, it will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis for each lamp type.  In each case, the action must demonstrate significant energy savings, and be economically justified and technologically feasible.

* The terms “lamp,” “light bulb” and “bulb” are used interchangeably in this post.

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