Seeing ‘the light’

Have you had a hard time finding incandescent light bulbs in your local store lately? Since 2007, the United States has been phasing out these inefficient bulbs in favor of more energy efficient models. As part of a move toward reduced energy usage, the Energy Independence and Securities Act of 2007 required approximately 25 percent greater efficiency for light bulbs, which effectively banned the manufacture and importation of the most common incandescent light bulbs. Higher wattage bulbs were phased out in 2012, and as of the end of 2014, 40- and 60-watt bulbs are no longer brought into the United States.

By regulating the incandescent bulb out of use, the government has forced consumers to move toward alternatives that are initially more expensive, but use less energy and are more economical to operate. Compact fluorescent lights, halogen lamps and light emitting diodes or LEDs use considerably less energy than the old workhorse incandescent, so they ultimately pay for themselves over time through reduced energy cost.

When these regulations were imposed, they caused quite a stir among folks who did not want the government dictating their choices in the local hardware store. Now that the phaseout is complete, the general consensus is that the regulators got this one right. Incandescent bulbs will go the way of leaded gasoline and high flow toilets and be looked upon as a low-tech product of a bygone era. Consumers, as a result, ended up with a product that works equally as well and is better for the environment.

As I said, regulators got that one right, but one place regulators got it wrong is with electric water heaters. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently implemented regulations that ban the manufacture of large capacity electric water heaters of 55 gallons or more in favor of a technology that does not work well in colder climates. What the DOE missed is that when used as part of a demand response program, these water heaters become an extremely valuable tool that helps consumers save money, promotes grid reliability, and helps integrate renewable energy. These large capacity water heaters become an energy storage device by heating the water during off-peak hours for use during peak usage times, thereby reducing the need for additional power plants. Grid enabled water heaters truly are an environmental benefit.

Across the Minnkota service territory, cooperative members have approximately 41,300 total electric water heaters in service. Of that number, approximately 8,300 are large capacity units that operate under a demand response or off-peak program. Thanks in part to the three members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation, on April 30 President Obama signed a new piece of legislation that allows us to continue to use these energy efficient tools in this win-win way. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., recently said in a statement “consumers save money, rural electric cooperatives optimize their energy management and, because the water heaters in the program are energy efficient, the environment benefits.”

Many thanks to our congressional delegation for all their hard work in helping the DOE see the “light” on this important piece of legislation.