Truth in advertising

When is free not free? When the customers pay for it whether they want it or not. That’s the story of FirstEnergy’s “free” CFL program. Customers can contact FirstEnergy to get up to six compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) for “free.” Except they’re not free. Customers of the utility are paying for them. From the Akron Beacon Journal (Headline: “Free light bulb plan gets regulators’ OK”):

FirstEnergy residential customers using an average 750 kilowatt hours of electricity per month will pay about $1.50 a month over three years to fund the programs and the associated ”lost distribution revenue.” That totals $54 over the three-year period.

Call me crazy, but where I come from that ain’t free.

You might think that based on my objection so far that I’m opposed to the use of CFLs to save energy. But I’m not. I use them wherever practical, which is almost any household use, including outdoor floodlights.

But to spin the CFL distribution as “free” is dishonest and misleading. It invites suspicion about “What else is FirstEnergy hiding?” These are the same guy who had some difficulty with telling the truth about its Davis-Besse nuclear plant, which was shut down for two years after a potentially disastrous leak was discovered.

Tell it like it is: It’s a program to reduce energy use, and the PUCO is allowing FirstEnergy to charge a fee to recoup losses for the reduced energy use and the cost of providing the CFLs to FirstEnergy customers.

There, was that so hard?

True, plenty of FirstEnergy customers still don’t like it – naysayers don’t like the bulbs themselves, critics say they contain too much mercury, etc.

But CFLs have gotten better over the years. They generally last longer than the Edison-era incandescent bulbs (but not always, and when they go they usually emit that acrid electric fire smell). They don’t burn as hot as incandescents or halogens. They use less energy to generate the same (well, similar) amount of light.

But it’s all a moot argument. Your old-fashioned Edison-era incandescent bulbs are going the way of the Model-T. They will be replaced in 2014 or so by new, more-efficient light bulbs, including updated incandescents, LEDs or – that’s right – fluorescent lights.

So get with the program. You’re already paying for it!

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2 thoughts on “Truth in advertising

  1. My new favorite blog! I am going to get my lightbulbs. Hell, I can buy a lightbulb for about 45 cents apiece. That means that the average household would need to purchase 100+ lightbulbs over the next 3 years to justify the cost. Or am I wrong?

    • Oh, there are lots of factors that can change the numbers — your actual cost per kilowatt hour, the amount of electricity you use on average, etc. If you want to see true energy efficiency, look to Germany and other parts of Europe. My brother-in-law just returned after two years in Europe and says Germany especially is way ahead of us in terms of household and industrial efficiency.

      Thanks for the props!

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