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And the Light Went On

Updated on November 15, 2015

Down at the Pub One Evening

"Under my plan... electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket."

Barack Obama, January 2008

So there I was again, at the corner pub, minding my own business as I do. I was simply admiring Christina as she was replacing a light bulb over the back of the bar. She was exchanging the burned out incandescent bulb with one of the new "twirly" lights.

Bob, the ale drinker, spoke. "You know, they made those bulbs the right shape."

She turned to him and asked, "What do you mean?"

"They're a screw shape. And that's what they’re doing: screwing you."

She gave him a certain look and said, “They use a lot less energy. That saves me money. I've replaced all of my lights at home with these."

"Much of America has I'm sorry to say." He looked to the ceiling and put his hands in a praying position. "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."

"Now what was that for?” she bantered back.

"All you’re doing is driving the rates up. Do you understand how an electric company works?” he quizzed.

"Sure", she said climbing off of the step stool and turning to him. "They create the electricity and send it down the power lines to my home where, when I flip a switch, voila, my lights turn on." She paused. "That is as long as my bill is paid up."

Bob smiled to himself, took a long pull off of his ale then looked to her. "They do work that way, but I asked how they work."

She gave him a curious look.

He continued (as I knew he would). "An electric company is more than just that. Sure, they deliver power to your house, but there’s so much more. An electric company also has a building for creating the afore mentioned bills. They have service trucks and to fill the buildings and the service trucks are employees. Of course, there are the enormous generators that create the power. Then there are the poles, lines and meters - all of which require maintenance and service. Now the employees need to get paid. The rent on the buildings and the leases on the trucks need to get paid. The poles, lines and meters as well as the paper for the bills need to be purchased. Oh, then there are the envelopes and stamps for the bills plus a myriad of other needs just to run."

She was beginning to get that "5,000 yard stare" in her eyes. He noticed but continued anyway. "Then there are the unforeseen things that happen so an emergency fund must be maintained. My point, my dear, is all of that costs money."

"So? That is what my bill is for, to pay for those things."

"That's right! But how do they determine how much you are going to pay."

"Duh… there's the meter."

"Yes, of course. But I said how much - per kilowatt hour."

Her eyes looked up and her face scrunched as to think.

"Let me make this a little easier for you. Let's say there is a village that has 100 customers in it. And the electric company's overhead, the buildings, trucks - the things I've already mentioned - comes to a thousand dollars a month. Remember, this is just an example. So that means each customer is costing them, on the average, ten dollars a month. Right?"

"Right", she said becoming a little more interested.

"But that is just for the overhead. Then comes the power. For this example, let's say that it costs the electric company a dollar a month to create the needed energy for each customer. Now each customer is costing $11 a month"

"So each customer must be billed $11 per month to break even, right? she interjected.

"On the surface that seems correct. But it gets deeper than that. I said that there is the overhead. The other items to be paid are the employees which week to week payroll varies. And there are those pesky shareholders who expect the company to earn a profit and there is the emergency fund which on a given year will be tapped into at least once. So let’s say that when all is said and done, each customer’s bill, based on the cost of staying in business, needs to be about $15.”

"So if each customer is using 10 kilowatts per month at a dollar a kilowatt, the electric company is losing money. So the rate has to be ‘adjusted’ to a rate that will meet all of the needs and turn a little profit. The rate now has been adjusted to $1.50 per kilowatt hour”

"So as long as they have 1,000 kilowatt hours or more used, everyone is happy. Right?"

"Right", she said with some caution.

"Sure. But then comes in the "energy efficient" products. You know, washers, dryers... twirly bulbs. A portion of the population starts using these products. Now the average monthly use is 9 kilowatt hours. Now the electric company is only getting $1,350 a month - $150 short. Well what do they do?"

"Raise the rates", she answered.

He took another long pull off of his ale, taking time to enjoy it before swallowing it slowly. When was done he looked at her. "Right. Now they must charge a $1.66 per kilowatt hour even though it still only costs a dollar per kilowatt hour to produce. So the rates go up. Well, the people notice that their bills have gone up. So to meet their household budget, they start using less power, either by cutting back on use or by buying the twirly bulbs. Now the electric company sees that the average monthly use is down to 7.5 kilos a month. What happens then?"

"The rates go up", she said again.

"Right. The rates go up again. Now the electric company needs to charge $2.00 per kilowatt hour. Now bear in mind, not everyone has the means to buy the new washer or dryer, but there are ways to cut back, however, these are usually minimal. There is a base amount that everyone requires. So what happens next?"

"The rates go up?” she asked.

"Now, remember, I said the average use is 8 kilowatts per month. Part of the village uses only 5 kilowatts a month where part still uses 15 or more because they can't afford to upgrade or cut back. The latter includes still a majority of the households but it also includes other businesses. They have overhead, payroll and in some cases, shareholders. What do they have to do? Do you think that the grocery store is able cut back on its freezers, ovens and lighting? No. What happens to grocery prices?"

"The prices go up?” she sighed.

"Right, and you are paying more for the same or less. Now, the water company uses electricity for the machines that clean and treat and pump your water. And when the electric company’s rates go up, so do the water company’s rates. The local city government still needs to use power. How does that get paid? Taxes! So, taxes go up. The operating costs of the local gas station are fixed and to make a profit fuel prices go up. All of these things affect all of the citizens - the energy savers and the regular folk. Don't get me wrong. Over time, rates do and will go up. Fuel charges, payroll and etcetera. But this would happen slowly and not skyrocket as they are now. And it’s all because of a twirly light bulb."

He then stopped to take a final pull off of his glass. Christina stood there thinking. He interrupted her by saying, "Well that's all for me, my dear. Let's see, I had two pints so that's, um, three dollars, right?"

"I'm sorry, Bob. We had go up on the ale. That'll be four now."

"I see", he said opening his wallet. "Of course you realize that now cuts into your tip as I have only so much money in a week."

Christina sighed.

I sat back thinking of the lesson that was not only taught but the one that just played out. I can't buy as much as I was before as my "overhead" has gone up as well. "All because of a twirly bulb?” I asked myself. Well, I don’t know if it’s solely to blame, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere.


How to clean up a broken CFL light bulb per the EPA

Before Cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb:
    • stiff paper or cardboard;
    • sticky tape;
    • damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and
    • a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During Cleanup

  • DO NOT VACUUM. Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder. Scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag. See the detailed cleanup instructions for more information, and for differences in cleaning up hard surfaces versus carpeting or rugs.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After Cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • Next, check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.

Of course when one would break an old style incandescent light bulb you would only have to sweep it up. But the new CFL bulbs are better for the planet...


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