The Department of Energy on Sept. 5 took two actions to loosen lighting efficiency standards.

DOE finalized a rule to unwind a 2017 regulation dropping exemptions of specialty lamps, including reflectors, globe-shaped bulbs and candelabra lights, from efficiency standards.

Under a "backstop" provision in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, general-service lamps that fail to meet an efficiency standard of 45 lumens per watt cannot be sold in the U.S. beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Under the 2017 rule, the backstop would have applied to nearly all bulbs sold in the U.S., including A-line and specialty lamps.

In addition, DOE proposed no change in efficiency standards for general-service incandescent lamps, which if finalized would in effect allow continued sales of halogen incandescent A-line lamps unable to meet the 45-lumens-per-watt standard.

Sales of specialty lamps numbered about 2.9 billion of the bulbs sold in 2015, according to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory analysis. About 3.5 billion pear-shaped, A-line bulbs were sold that year.

DOE's rule on specialty lamps is likely to be challenged in court. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra denounced the action as "another dim-witted rule that will waste energy at the expense of our people and the planet."

Becerra was one of 15 attorneys general to file comments in May arguing that the rule would violate "anti-backsliding" provisions in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the statutory authorization for federal lighting and appliance standards. Other AGs who filed comments included the chief legal officers for Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

A point likely to be argued in litigation is whether the backstop imposing the 45-lumens efficiency standard has been triggered.

In its rule unwinding the 2017 regulation, DOE said the backstop has not been triggered because it has not yet made a final decision on whether to amend standards for general-service incandescent lamps.

In their comments, the AGs said DOE's position "defies logic" and "contradicts the overall framework" of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, including timetables Congress prescribed "to force improvements in new lighting technologies."

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association praised DOE's action, arguing that the Obama administration "misconstrued" the 2007 statute in finalizing its 2017 rule. The group said Congress intended standards for general-service lamps to apply only to A-line bulbs and compact fluorescents.

NEMA also argued that growth in sales of LEDs for both A-line and specialty lamps is likely to continue.

Efficiency advocates estimated that DOE's two actions would cost consumers up to $14 billion per year in higher energy costs.

"The Trump administration is siding with manufacturers that want to keep selling outdated, energy-wasting light bulbs," Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said in a statement.

Colorado, Nevada and Washington lawmakers this year enacted legislation locking in the 45-lumens-per-watt standard for general-service lamps sold in their states. California began enforcing the standard in 2018.

Western utilities in May urged DOE to keep the 2017 rule, arguing that the rollback would be a "backwards step" that would cost consumers an estimated $100 per year by 2025.

Utilities and utility groups objecting to DOE's proposal included Arizona Public Service, Avista, Chelan County Public Utility District of Washington, the California Municipal Utilities Association, Idaho Power, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, NorthWestern Energy, PNM Resources, Portland General Electric, Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, San Diego Gas & Electric, Seattle City Light, Southern California Edison, Tacoma Public Utilities and Tucson Electric Power.

LBNL estimated in a 2017 analysis that bringing the specialty lamps under 2020 standards would save 27 quads of energy between 2020 and 2049 and reduce consumer costs by a net present value of $120 billion during that period, assuming a 7-percent discount rate.

The proposal determining there should be no change in standards for general-service incandescent lamps said a 45-lumens-per-watt standard is technologically infeasible for incandescents. In addition, DOE said an alternative of forcing manufacturers to produce incandescent lamps using more efficient halogen infrared technology would not be economically justified.

"Given the high upfront cost and long payback period, these analyses do not anticipate that consumers will benefit from introduction of [halogen infrared] technology," the proposal said. DOE said consumers likely would step up purchases of competing LED and compact fluorescent lamps.

NEMA said attempts to design an incandescent lamp that could hit the 45-lumens standard have been beset by technical problems, including "the inability to deliver anywhere near the minimum 1,000-hour service life of that lamp that the consumer expects and demands for this type of bulb."

DOE's proposal is open for 60 days of public comment, until Nov. 4.

Governors Back Renewable-Energy Bill

Western governors have urged House leaders to move forward with a bill, HR 3794, to speed permitting of renewable-energy projects on federal lands and share rent and royalty revenues with state and local governments.

In a letter to Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Natural Resources and Agriculture committees, the Western Governors Association urged lawmakers to include U.S. Forest Service land in the bill's permitting and revenue-sharing provisions. The current draft of the bill would apply only to Bureau of Land Management acreage, which the letter said is a "missed opportunity."

The letter, sent Aug. 19, was signed by the association's chair and vice chair, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, respectively.

HR 3794 is currently pending in the Natural Resources Committee's Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee and the Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.

HR 3794 would establish a permitting coordinating office and require the Interior Department to identify high-priority BLM acreage for wind and geothermal development. Currently, the priority-lands requirement applies only to solar.

In addition, the bill would share rental and royalty revenues from renewables projects, with 25 percent each for affected counties and states, and 25 percent for a fund to finance conservation and recreational access projects.

HR 3794 has broad support on both sides of the aisle, including co-sponsorships by Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, and Rob Bishop (R-Utah), ranking Republican on the Natural Resources Committee.

EIA Reports Solar Price Drop

The cost of utility-scale solar power plants fell 37 percent between 2013 and 2017, the Energy Information Administration reported Sept. 3.

The capacity-weighted cost of solar-photovoltaic plants fell to $2,343 per kW during the four-year period, the EIA said. In 2017, developers installed 5 GW of solar capacity, the agency added.

"The decrease in the cost of solar photovoltaics was a result of falling costs in crystalline silicon, axis-based tracking panels, which saw their lowest average construction cost of $2,135 per kW in 2017," the EIA said.

In comparison, the costs of utility-scale wind fell 13 percent during the 2013-2017 period, while the cost of natural gas-fired capacity decreased 4.7 percent, the EIA reported.