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Revised CFL plan better, but still not acceptable

April 1, 2011
Morning Journal News

Just when you thought it was safe to turn your lights on again, the controversial light bulb "giveaway" has been resurrected.

This time it has undergone some improvements, however.

Last week, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved a modified plan by FirstEnergy to distribute energy-efficient light bulbs more than a year after customers protested the initial proposal. The modified plan is part of Akron-based FirstEnergy's three-year energy efficiency program. The average residential customer will still pay about $1.50 monthly over three years to fund the plan, including about 30 cents for the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) program, according to the PUCO.

The commission suspended the program in 2009, when FirstEnergy sought to charge customers $21.60 for two bulbs though it cost only $3.50 to buy and distribute them.

Customers now can have up to six bulbs delivered or buy them at retailers for 50 cents each or less. FirstEnergy will also distribute CFLs through a variety of other channels, including its online store and local agencies that assist low-income customers. The 23-watt bulbs are designed to replace 100-watt incandescent bulbs in non-dimmable fixtures.

On the bright side, users of CFLs will realize savings on their electric bills, according to ENERGY STAR, which certifies the bulbs' energy standards. A CFL can save more than $40 in electricity costs over its lifetime, uses about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and lasts up to 10 times longer and produces about 75 percent less heat, so it's safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel, the residential utility consumer advocate, is still not happy with the program.

"While the OCC supports the use of cost-effective energy efficiency programs so customers can save on their monthly electric bills, we still have concerns about some of the costs FirstEnergy is allowed to collect," Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander said.

"FirstEnergy did not provide evidence proving many of the costs in its CFL program were reasonable or provided benefits to residential customers. It should bear all of the costs for the poorly designed program it created that provided no benefits to customers."

Even though it is much cheaper this time, we still don't like the idea that consumers will be charged on their electric bill even if they opt not to receive or use the light bulbs. It seems a little dim-(pardon the pun)-witted to us.



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