Senators Spar Over $50 Lightbulb

A tiff over the true cost of energy-efficient lightbulbs stumbled Tuesday into Senate chambers, where Republicans grilled Energy Secretary Steven Chu over his department's favorite new bulb—a Philips LED that retails for about $50.
Chu was testifying on the Energy Department's embattled loan program when Republicans turned to the Energy Department contest that awarded Philips $10 million for developing an affordable, efficient bulb.
"Do you think a $50 lightbulb is affordable for American families, where the government’s own figures show the average family has over 40 lightbulbs?" Wyoming Senator John Barrasso asked Chu.
"So are we asking American families to spend over $2000 to trade out their lightbulbs?"
"No, absolutely not," Chu replied. "We are not asking American families to spend $50 for a lightbulb. The prize was designed to incentivize the development of new technologies."
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) turned on Barrasso:
"That question strikes me as just disingenuous," Franken said. "Either that or not understanding what the purpose of developing that kind of technology is."
The Phillips bulb is affordable now, Chu said, for commercial uses in which bulbs are left burning for long periods of time or require costly equipment to replace.
Although they cost $50 initially, they last for 20,000 hours before replacement, he said. He cited exit signs and traffic signals as places LED bulbs had already proven their worth.
"The idea for that contest was to provide a goal to get a lightbulb that eventually Americans can afford," Chu said. "Our goal is to get down to a $5 lightbulb that lasts 20,000 hours."
But Kentucky Republican Rand Paul suggested that didn't matter:
"You’re choosing $50 lightbulbs," Paul said. "Nobody understands that in America."
Before Republicans brought the bulb tiff into chambers, Democrats on the committee were battling about the bulb with the Washington Post. In a front-age story, the Post reported on the winning bulb under the headline, "'Affordable' Energy Efficiency at $50 a Bulb."
Democrats on the committee took exception with the graphic. "This is bogus," wrote committee spokesman Bill Wicker in a March 9 press release:
The problem with the graphic is bad “info.” It is based on electricity costing 1 cent per kilowatt-hour. That’s way off from the actual price of electricity — by a factor of 10!…
That error goes to the heart of the Post story. Is it fair to say that a bulb that the Post reports will cost $50 is unaffordable, while failing to mention that the savings on monthly electricity bills will far outweigh that cost?
via Getting the Whole Story Right at the Washington Post – U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
The Post later corrected the error, though without yet reporting the correction.

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