Reporting from Sacramento — Having a tough time finding a conventional 100-watt light bulb?
That's because California was allowed to jump the gun on next year's nationwide phase-out of the standard incandescent bulb. Stores here can sell their stock of the 100-watt lights, but after that, they can sell only more energy-efficient bulbs equivalent to 100 watts.
The new incandescents, under federal efficiency standards, consume only 72 watts but burn just as brightly and just as long as descendants of those invented 132 years ago by Thomas Alva Edison.
In passing the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress gave California permission to switch to the more power-stingy incandescent bulbs this year, while other states must start changing over next Jan. 1.
California, which has an international reputation for pioneering energy efficiency programs, was eager to get a head start on switching to the new bulbs.
The changeover should shave $35.6 million off consumers' electric bills this year alone, the California Energy Commission estimated.
More savings should follow over the next three years as California junks the 75-watt bulb next year, the 60-watt bulb in 2013 and the 40-watt bulb in 2014. Each replacement must use about a third less energy and must last at least 1,000 hours.
"Ninety percent of an old-fashioned incandescent bulb's energy is wasted as heat," said commission Chairwoman Karen Douglas. "The new bulbs will be 28% more energy efficient without compromising the amount of light delivered."
The move to more efficient incandescent bulbs, which create light as standard bulbs do by running electric current through a filament, doesn't mean that California is outlawing all old-style bulbs. Any bulb manufactured before Jan. 1, 2011, still can be sold.
The federal regulations do not affect a variety of specialty incandescent bulbs, such as three-way, colored, bug lights and heavy-duty bulbs.
Although many consumers already have switched to super-efficient, long-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs, halogen and solid state bulbs with light-emitting diodes, some still prefer the warmth of the old-fashioned incandescent lighting in some parts of their homes.
The new standards probably will create some confusion among consumers, who, historically, based bulb-buying decisions on how much power a bulb consumes in watts, said Clark Linstone, president of Pacific Coast Lighting in Chatsworth and chairman of the government affairs committee of the American Lighting Assn.
"As technology has progressed, you can now get more lumens per watt," he said.
To get out that message, the energy commission has teamed up with light bulb manufacturers and retailers, such as General Electric Co. and Home Depot Inc.
Meanwhile, at least one major retailer, Ikea, is going further to push its customers toward low-wattage lighting. Earlier this month, the Swedish company said it was no longer stocking or selling any incandescent bulbs, including the new ones. The chain said it would stock only compact fluorescent, halogen and other non-incandescent bulbs.
"Eliminating incandescents is just one simple way for Ikea customers to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases," said Mike Ward, U.S. Ikea president.