Obama and the 50-buck light bulb

A bank­rupt Amer­ica can’t af­ford ex­pen­sive green lux­u­ries

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

The 50-dol­lar light bulb is a good metaphor for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion — way too ex­pen­sive for most Amer­i­cans to put up with.

A new LED fix­ture from the Philips Corp. is the lat­est public-re­la­tions dis­as­ter for the En­ergy Depart­ment. The 60-watt equiv­a­lent bulb won the En­ergy Depart­ment’s $10 mil­lion “L Prize” for an en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive bulb that is “af­ford­able for Amer­i­can fam­i­lies.” The re­tail price is $50 each.

The new LED is more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient than stan­dard in­can­des­cent bulbs and may last up to 10 years. Yet given that it costs 50 times the price of the typ­i­cal old-style bulb, this eats up any longterm sav­ings. The En­ergy Depart­ment de­fends the bulb’s ex­or­bi­tant price, claim­ing costs are ex­pected to fall over time. How­ever, the orig­i­nal con­test guide­lines pro­jected a re­tail price less than half of what the bulb wound up cost­ing, and there are al­ready much less ex­pen­sive LED bulbs avail­able that didn’t ben­e­fit from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s seal of ap­proval.

It’s un­seemly to give $10 mil­lion of the public’s money to a cor­po­ra­tion in times of aus­ter­ity when pre­sum­ably Philips should have been try­ing to de­velop ef­fi­cient, re­li­able, cost-ef­fec­tive light bulbs any­way. It’s called cap­i­tal­ism. The Solyn­dra so­lar-panel de­ba­cle and the other risky, los­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­vest­ments in “green tech­nol­ogy” un­der­score the waste­ful na­ture of gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion in these emerg­ing mar­kets. If in­cen­tive prizes are go­ing to be given, the con­test should be limited to young, upand-com­ing tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tors for whom the award is more mean­ing­ful and who may be the source of the next big break­through.

The Chevy Volt is an­other sym­bol of the prob­lems of gov­ern­ment in­flu­ence in tech­nol­ogy. Mr. Obama has made the Volt a high-pro­file sym­bol of his vi­sion for the fu­ture of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, and in a com­mer­cial aired in Jan­uary, Gen­eral Mo­tors sanc­ti­mo­niously said the Volt was the car “Amer­ica had to build.” In re­al­ity, it has turned out to be the car no one wants to buy. A week ago, GM an­nounced that Volt pro­duc­tion would be halted for five weeks in or­der “to main­tain the right in­ven­tory lev­els and con­tinue to meet de­mand.” Keep­ing the Volt charged up is an ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion. A re­cent study by Michi­gan’s Mack­inac Cen­ter for Public Pol­icy showed that fed­eral and state sub­si­dies to­tal as much as $250,000 per ve­hi­cle sold. Like the $50 light bulb, it is an costly lux­ury in the pur­suit of pur­ported eco­log­i­cal pu­rity.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion promised that if Amer­ica hopped onto the green band­wagon, they would not only “save the planet” but get some­thing for noth­ing — free wind and so­lar power, long-last­ing bat­ter­ies and light bulbs, re­li­able elec­tric cars and un­lim­ited-life bat­ter­ies. Three years and bil­lions of dol­lars later, Amer­i­cans have learned what sci­en­tists and engineers knew all along: These tech­nolo­gies cost more, do less and aren’t con­sumer-friendly. To fam­i­lies try­ing to scrape by in this turkey-burger econ­omy, 50 dol­lars for a light bulb is no way to save the planet.

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