Let there be light (bulbs)

Go to www.smud.org or www.pge.com to find retail outlets in the Sacramento region that still carry discounted CFL bulbs.

How many times have you read in the last two years (and in this space!) about the need to replace home and office incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs? It seems the message still isn’t getting across. A spate of recent stories in the national media brought this point home by reporting that people still aren’t making the change as broadly as hoped.

Why? Because they suffer from sticker shock at the cash register.

Yes, the new bulbs cost more. But over its projected lifespan, a CFL saves a consumer $62.95 per light bulb in energy costs. One SN&R staffer calculated that with 55 bulbs in his house, he’s looking at a potential energy cost savings of $3,462.25 if all the bulbs last an average amount of time.

We’re fortunate in the Sacramento region on the “sticker shock” score because both SMUD and PG&E have arranged with manufacturers and dozens of retail outlets to offer the new bulbs at discounted rates. From Folsom and Rancho Cordova, to Citrus Heights and Fair Oaks, to downtown and south Sacramento, CFLs can be found for as little as 99 cents, a bit higher for higher-wattage bulbs. (See column note for details.)

But that hasn’t yet translated into majority acceptance. With almost 20 percent of California’s electricity used for lighting and with 94 percent of light bulbs purchased (as of last April) still being those highly energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs, clearly the battle cry to switch to CFL bulbs has not reached all ears. That’s even though this is one easy shift in our individual and collective actions that can make a significant difference.

So think about it. Switching just one incandescent light bulb to a CFL will prevent one-quarter ton of coal from being burned to produce electricity for that lighting. That translates into stopping around 400 to 500 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions from going into the atmosphere.

It’s true this kind of change requires planning. Many of us can’t afford to swap out all our incandescent bulbs at once, and many of us can’t rationalize throwing away perfectly good bulbs despite the future savings. So don’t buy a bulb on the spur of the moment. For example, at your local grocery store, a single CFL bulb can cost as much as four from other sources, like the big-box retailers. So make a list, check which wattages you need where, and as they dim and as your budget allows, replace bulbs at the retailers who offer discounted prices.

With mounting scientific evidence indicating the grave consequences of climate change for generations to come, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and helpless and to feel there’s nothing one person can do. But each of us can do something real and positive and meaningful. It’s as simple as changing a light bulb.