In a move aimed at lowering energy consumption in Canadian homes, the federal government is pushing ahead with a plan to ban inefficient light bulbs – but only after easing restrictions over what other types can still be sold.
The new standards, announced Friday, preserve a looming phase-out of traditional incandescent bulbs, which will be barred from import by the end of next year.
The crux of Friday's changes is that a new option – the incandescent halogen bulb – will be allowed. The halogens look and function like the traditional bulb, "virtually indistinguishable" to the average consumer, according to a federal regulatory impact analysis statement. But while they use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, they are not as energy-efficient as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diode bulbs (LEDs).
The government is, in essence, slightly watering down pending regulations to make the change more palatable, by allowing halogens to survive alongside CFLs and LEDs. The impact analysis statement concedes the changes will "result in a slight decrease in the stringency of the current standards" but will "contribute to significant energy savings [and] GHG emissions reductions" overall.
Canada delayed the new regulations in 2011 after some complaints. Some bulbs, for instance, didn't work with dimmers. There were also pollution concerns – CFLs contain mercury, and some recycling programs weren't prepared to handle them. Energy-efficient bulbs also tend to be more expensive, though they can make up for that cost with longer lifespans and lower power use.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the change will "allow greater choice for Canadian consumers." The new regulations also align closely with American standards, at a time when Mr. Oliver is looking to underscore Canada's environmental track record in a bid to win approval for projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline. "By aligning energy efficiency standards for light bulbs with the U.S., we are lowering costs and reducing the burden for Canadian businesses while providing consumers with the choice they need," Mr. Oliver said in a written statement.
While not as efficient as CFLs and LEDs, the halogens are still better than incandescent bulbs, said Tim Weis, director of renewable energy and efficiency policy for the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank. "This is a step in the right direction. We support the government's efforts for improved light bulb efficiency standards," he said.
The regulations project an emissions reduction of between five and seven megatonnes annually by 2025, of the 90 megatonnes Canada's electricity sector churned out in 2011. Under one projection, the government expects Canadians will spend $1.1-billion more on bulbs over a decade, but save $1.85 – billion "in energy and GHG savings," for a net benefit of $749-million.
Ontario and B.C. have both introduced light bulb standards paired to the old ones proposed by Ottawa. "Ontario will review [Friday's] proposed changes and consider its options," a Ministry of Energy spokesman said.
As for the old incandescent bulbs, the regulations ban the import, or interprovincial sale, of 75- and 100-watt models manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2014, and 40- and 60-watt models manufactured on or after Dec. 31, 2014. Selling existing stock, or using the old bulbs, is still allowed.