James Provost

The lighting industry breathed a collective sigh of relief on July 12, when the House of Representatives defeated the BULB (Better Use of Light Bulbs) Act in a vote of 233 to 193. (The Act sought to repeal part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act that requires incandescent lamps to become 30 percent more efficient beginning in 2012.) The fact that Congress would even spend time debating light bulbs when a decision on the $14.3 trillion debt-ceiling loomed was hard for many taxpayers to swallow. Now the debt-ceiling issue has been resolved—sort of—and, reflecting the cognitive dissonance that stems from having a Tea Party–tilting House and a Democratic Senate and President, two pieces of energy-efficiency legislation are coming down the line that differ starkly from BULB.

The first and higher-profile bill is the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESICA), introduced in May by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). ESICA seeks to increase the use of energy-efficient technologies in homes, businesses, and factories, and to spur private-sector job creation. “By making it easier for employers to utilize energy-efficient tools, they can reduce costs, enabling them to use the savings to expand their companies and hire new workers,” Portman said at a May 12 press conference.

A wide-ranging bill that purports to be a national energy-efficiency strategy (or at least the basis for one), ESICA has provisions relating to buildings, manufacturing, and the federal government. The package spells mainly good news for the lighting industry, says Robert Horner, director of public policy for the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). Two particular high notes: loan programs would be created and expanded for energy-efficiency retrofits of commercial and industrial buildings, and a DOE program would be established for university-based building training centers that would provide training in efficient commercial building design and operation.

However, Title I of the bill, regarding building energy codes, gives Horner and his colleagues pause. This section calls for the DOE to establish national model energy codes, pegged to baselines of the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ASHRAE 90.1 2010, and to set targets that lead toward a goal of net-zero energy buildings by 2030. The bill also empowers the DOE to assist states in adopting the model codes.

As Horner sees it, Title I “calls for continued ratcheting down of lighting power densities, [which] is of major concern to the IES. The feeling right now from the lighting profession is: If we continue to ratchet down these requirements, we're going to start affecting lighting quality, which has a snowball effect on occupants.” Horner says that the IES will likely lobby to change these provisions in the legislation, and to advocate for increased use of daylighting. “We're looking at discussing this with the bill's authors in order to try to come up with a different [strategy]. We would like to have more consideration given to a performance- or outcome-based approach,” he says. According to Horner, the IES and the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) are working “hand in hand” on this effort.

ESICA, which authorizes $1.07 billion over several years, passed the Senate Energy Committee with a vote of 18-3 and will be voted on by the full Senate post-recess. Horner calls its chances of passing into law “fair.” He notes that there's a lot competing for Congress's attention right now, not least of which is an approaching election year. Although the bill has bipartisan support, “it's still on a fairly long track,” he says.

    “The feeling right now from the lighting profession is: If we continue to ratchet down these requirements, we're going to start affecting lighting quality, which has a snowball effect on occupants. … We're looking at discussing this with the bill's authors in order to try to come up with a different [strategy]. We would like to have more consideration given to a performance- or outcome-based approach.”

    —Robert Horner, director of public policy, Illuminating Engineering Society

In its original version, ESICA included provisions that set or raised standards for certain appliances, including dishwashers, room air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers, as well as GU-24 base lamps, and outdoor lighting. These provisions have been dropped because they already appear in another piece of legislation that's before Congress: the Implementation of National Consensus Appliance Agreements Act, or INCAAA, introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) in Sept. 2010 and reintroduced with updates by Bingaman and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Feb. 17 of this year. Because it is concerned with standard-setting, INCAAA does not contain any authorizations—“it would not incur any new spending,” as Bingaman said when he introduced it.
INCAAA's proposed lighting standards—including a phaseout of general-purpose mercury vapor lamps—are based on consensus agreements between industry and energy efficiency and environmental organizations. They pass muster with Horner, except for one set that applies to general-service fluorescents. Horner cites a major implementation challenge: The highest efficiency fluorescents require increased use of rare-earth phosphors for manufacture, and China, which is virtually the only supplier of rare-earth phosphors in the world, has raised prices and cut back on allocations for export. The IES may ask Congress to hold off on implementing the changes for fluorescents, Horner says, until this supply problem can be addressed.

Regardless of what Congress's return brings, Horner is cheered by one of last year's crop of laws—the Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act, which instructs the U.S. General Services Administration to identify core competencies and offer training for federal employees charged with building operations and maintenance, energy management, and design. Potentially, Horner says, lighting professionals might both take part in this training and provide it. The industry could be affected in multiple ways, “all of them positive.”

Amanda Kolson Hurley is a freelance writer based in Maryland. Formerly the executive editor of ARCHITECT, AL's sister magazine, she has written for publications including Preservation, Urbanite (Baltimore), and The Wilson Quarterly.