When the Canadian federal government decided earlier this year to delay plans to phase out inefficient light bulbs, it drew the ire of environmental groups who argued the delay was unnecessary and would further set back the government’s already weak emissions-reduction strategy. The Pembina Institute, for example, said the two-year delay — from Jan 1, 2012 to Jan 1, 2014 — would negate 13 million of avoidable greenhouse gas emissions and potentially $300 million in permanent energy savings.
Fortunately, the provinces can do their own thing. As of Jan. 1, 2010, for example, retailers in British Columbia have been prohibited from restocking 75-watt and 100-watt incandescent bulbs. It was also assumed that Ontario would follow through with a similar commitment beginning Jan. 1, 2012, but there’s a strong possibility the government will backtrack at the 11th hour.
I was curious about the status of the planned phaseout, so put in a query to the Ontario Ministry of Energy. Here was the initial reply: “Following the decision by the federal government, Ontario is reviewing its options to proceed with proposed efficiency standards for general service lighting,” wrote spokesman Paul Gerard in an e-mailed reply. I asked whether the review would continue into next year, meaning the government would miss the Jan. 1 start date of the phaseout. “The outcome of the review will be announced very shortly, before the new year,” Gerard replied.
I’m not expecting good news — you never get good news during the holiday season. It may be that the province will stick to its guns and follows through, but I’m getting the feeling they won’t given the fact that, just today, U.S. Congress succeeded in neutering its own country’s 2012 light bulb phaseout by preventing the U.S. Department of Energy from enforcing the law, as detailed in the Energy and Independence Security Act 2007.
That would be a tremendous shame, making one question whether Ontario — despite the rhetoric — is taking the issue of greenhouse-gas reductions seriously. It would also further tarnish Canada’s already lackluster reputation on the climate file in the aftermath of climate talks in Durban, South Africa. At a time when we should be adding to our efforts, it seems we’re instead backtracking on previous commitments, including delaying our participation in the Western Climate Initiative (fortunately Quebec is following through). The momentum is in the wrong direction, and this is alarming. Perhaps some public pressure is needed over the next few days to convince Ontario to stick with its guns and start the light bulb phaseout Jan. 1, as planned.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t about banning incandescent bulbs — this is about bulb efficiency, where compact fluorescent bulbs and LED bulbs have the advantage. But there have been innovations around incandescent technology as well. As Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, pointed out today, “five manufacturers are now producing and selling efficient incandescent bulbs that meet the standards.” In the U.S. context law-abiding companies will still follow the rule. “Less scrupulous companies will take advantage of the lack of enforcement, selling products that waste energy and increase energy costs for consumers. If many manufacturers take advantage of the lack of enforcement, recent investments that these five manufacturers have made to produce efficient lamps could be undermined.”
Ontario needs to consider this as well. Many companies have made business decisions based on the expectation of a phaseout starting Jan. 1. Companies such as Sears Canada and IKEA have already stopped selling (inefficient) incandescent bulbs, proving that the time is right to follow through. There’s no justification for putting on the brakes now. Indeed, by forging ahead Ontario can stand out as a leader and not fall under the shadow of a federal government that’s more concerned about short-term economic gain than the long-term health of our economy and environment.
So what path will you choose, Mr. McGuinty?