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GE Closes Last US Light Bulb Factory 797

Posted by samzenpus
from the bright-idea dept.
pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that last major GE factory making ordinary incandescent light bulbs in the US is closing this month, marking a small, sad exit for a product and company that can trace their roots to Thomas Alva Edison's innovations in the 1870s. What made the plant vulnerable is, in part, a 2007 energy conservation measure passed by Congress that set standards essentially banning ordinary incandescents by 2014 but rather than setting off a boom in the US manufacture of replacement lights, the leading replacement lights are compact fluorescents, or CFLs, which are made almost entirely overseas. GE developed a plan to see what it would take to retrofit a plant that makes traditional incandescents into one that makes CFLs but even with a $40 million investment the new plant's CFLs would have cost about 50 percent more than those from China. 'Everybody's jumping on the green bandwagon,' says Pat Doyle, 54, who has worked at the plant for 26 years. But 'we've been sold out. First sold out by the government. Then sold out by GE.'"
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GE Closes Last US Light Bulb Factory

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  • The easy way out (Score:5, Interesting)

    by w00tsauce (1482311) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:04PM (#33546440)
    GE needs to team up with Cree and retrofit their factory for making the next generation LED bulbs.
  • Re:The easy way out (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ark42 (522144) <slashdot.morpheussoftware@net> on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:17PM (#33546548) Homepage

    GE needs to team up with Cree and retrofit their factory for making the next generation LED bulbs.

    Yes! They need to think of the future, past CFLs, and start working on cheap LEDs asap.

    Anybody know where I can get good 800-1000 lumen LED bulbs, that fit in regular A19 socket with 4" clearance (too many are 5" or more tall, and don't fit in many fixtures), and don't have a fan and heatsink?
    I'd love to start buying them, even for $20-$30 each, but everything I find is like 300 lumens, 5" tall, or has a fan that gets noisy after a year of use.

  • Re:Sold out by GE? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alfredos (1694270) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:20PM (#33546576)

    I agree with what you wrote except:

    was going to be made obsolete by law

    Law in this case simply accelerated a proccess which was almost guaranteed to happen anyway due to the higher efficiencies of CFLs and LEDs.

    I am usually no fan of governments regulating too much, but in this case I'm happy with it (we have similar laws on this side of the pond, too).

  • by nickersonm (1646933) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:20PM (#33546578)

    I've not needed to replace a single CFL since I changed out all the lightbulbs with them when moving in to my current apartment 4 years ago. Perhaps your power supply is dirty? I hear bad things about CFLs, but the cheap ones I purchased were the best lighting investment I've ever made.

  • CFLs won't last (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Dracos (107777) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:24PM (#33546610)

    In 3 to 5 years when all the CFLs start dying, there will be a huge furor over the mercury they contain leeching into landfills.

    Coincidentally, at the same time LED bulbs will become cheap enough to replace them. The pitch will be "Sure they're $5 to $10 each now, but they'll only get cheaper, and they last for 20 years!" Sound suspiciously like the CFL pitch.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:26PM (#33546624)

    If they were dangerous, the government would never allow them to be sold to households for such common use, since lightbulbs are used in food handling areas.

    We pick up and vacuum up the pieces of broken CFLs without hazmat suits all the time, and no ill effects to report... They get broken about 10% of the time when a bulb is being changed, a bit more often than incandescents, which adds to the cost and annoyance of using these bulbs -- the CFLs seem to be more fragile for some reason and break too easily, not sure why that might be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:35PM (#33546712)

    but perhaps worth it?

    Not a chance. "Fading White LEDs" [discovercircuits.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:36PM (#33546728)

    I happened to be in New Zealand when they closed their last light bulb factory. At the time I honestly didn't think it'd ever happen here. This should send a chill down everyone's spine. Picture this scenario, 5 or 10 years from now China is likely to demand we stay out of their conflict with Taiwan just as they invade Taiwan. If we try to get involved China threatens an embargo. So what? Have any idea how mush of our essentially already come exclusively from China? Already most clothing and electronics come from there and now you can add light bulbs to the list. If they cut us off we go back to candles and they probably make most of the candles.It would take 5 to 10 years of hard work right now to start making most of our essentials again and it'll be far worse in 5 or 10 years. Can you go 5 years without buying new clothes? Other countries make them? Not enough to offset China. Cheap blue jeans could go for $500 a pair. People have no idea how dire our situation is and that's not even considering the debt we owe them. The majority of that debt has to be refinanced in the next two years. What if they refuse? The future of this country is already in the hands of China and it will get much worse before it has any hope of getting any better.

  • huh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:44PM (#33546794)
    What I don't get is this: if China can produce CFLs at half the price (which doesn't surprise me), then why couldn't they also produce incandescents at half the price? In other words, why hadn't the plant closed long before the advent of CFLs?
  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:52PM (#33546852)

    This isn't that the market for candles disappeared but rather the government banned candles.

    The candle you buy today isn't the candle you could buy ten years ago.

    Lead wicks in candles were banned in 2001:

    Granting a petition filed by Public Citizen, the National Apartment Association, and the National Multi Housing Council, the Consumer Product Safety Commission noted that some candles containing lead-core wicks can release more than 2,200 micrograms of lead per hour. This amount is about five times the amount of lead required to cause elevated lead blood levels in children, and a hazard to children exists when they are exposed to more than 440 micrograms per hour. Lead Wicks in Candles Banned [suite101.com]

    In response to increased reports of candle fires, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) [in 1997] asked the National Candle Association to spearhead an ASTM subcommittee to develop consensus standards for improving candle fire safety.
    The result was the ASTM Subcommittee on Candle Products, which includes members of the NCA, the CPSC, fire officials, safety organizations and other interested parties.
    To date, six ASTM candle standards have been published, two of which are reference standards.
    http://www.candles.org/industry.html" a>ASTM Standards For Candles [candles.org]

     

  • Re:Sold out by GE? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eharley (214725) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @02:55PM (#33546882)

    Seriously.

    I remember this article [nytimes.com] last year

    "When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb. The law set tough efficiency standards, due to take effect in 2012(?), that no traditional incandescent bulb on the market could meet, and a century-old technology that helped create the modern world seemed to be doomed."

    "But as it turns out, the obituaries were premature." ...
    "The incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation."

    "There's a massive misperception that incandescents are going away quickly," said Chris Calwell, a researcher with Ecos Consulting who studies the bulb market. "There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades."

    -----

    So it would seem that GE just doesn't want to invest in the US and instead make the same crap it's already making more cheaply in China.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:08PM (#33547020)
    Basically the government outlawed light bulbs that are not currently encumbered by a patent. The purpose of this law was not to increase energy efficiency but to increase corporate profits. All of the light bulbs that meet the new energy efficiency standards are covered by current patents. The companies that hold those patents were not able to make as much profit on those light bulbs as they wished because they had to compete with standard incandescent light bulbs. So they got together with the environmentalists to lobby the government to outlaw the light bulbs that anyone could build without paying a licensing fee for the technology.
  • Assumptions (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mouse Man2 (210293) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:14PM (#33547090)

    The assumption that increasing the efficiency of light sources will decreae energy use for lighting is nothing more than that -- an assumption not based on any actual evidence. There is some evidence that increasing energy efficiency actually increases energy use because energy becomes a cheaper input.

    See:

    http://www.energytribune.com/articles.cfm/5176/Energy-Conservation-and-Future-Energy-Demand

    and...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:14PM (#33547096)

    Actually, the mercury in your food comes mostly from the generation of electricity by burning coal. After combustion, it gets vented into the atmosphere and then rains down into the food chain. Landfills don't leak a lot of mercury into the food chain comparatively.

    I am an environmental scientist. This is mostly true. Mercury is a naturally occuring element and not destroyed or changed, but simply released, during fuel combustion. Most modern coal-fired power plants nowadays utilize a combined control system (activated carbon injection plus fabric filter capture/control system) to remove mercury before it exits the stack. If those controls weren't there on the newer units, or if the unit is an old grandfathered unit without them, then yes, I'd agree. I've actually seen a lot of information that the current problem isn't coal combustion but cremation (i.e. of humans) where the body contains mercury-based tooth fillings. Cremation isn't regulated like the power plants.

  • My oven... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stoutlimb (143245) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:24PM (#33547190)

    When the light bulb in my oven finally burns out, I wonder how well the CFL I replace it with will perform?

    Anyone?

  • by advocate_one (662832) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:35PM (#33547300)

    Please explain how the government mandating energy efficiency is equivalent to the government screwing us.

    yet again, they mandated a technology instead of mandating an efficiency target. It should have been a lumens per watt target and left up to the market as to how that was achieved...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:55PM (#33547446)

    Waste heat does not substitute 1:1, light bulbs tend to be placed high up (close to the ceiling). Radiators are placed at the ground level, because that is where they are most efficient.

    A house is not a hermetically sealed friction less vacuum container, so your 1:1 assumption is completely invalid.

  • Or would you rather electricity was five times the current price?

    Hmm... this sounds like "80% of the cost of your electricity is subsidized by the federal government, no matter which of many diverse local utilities you use", which in turn sounds a lot like "I don't know what I'm talking about"; but let's be clear anyway:

    Yes, using prices to reflect costs will have better results than distorting those prices and then trying to replace natural incentives with a haphazard artificial patchwork of bookshelves full of laws.

  • by amRadioHed (463061) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @04:23PM (#33547662)

    Are you sure that's what happened? I'm pretty sure they mandated a target efficiency so that energy efficient incandescent bulbs [nytimes.com] are still allowed.

  • Re:The easy way out (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arisvega (1414195) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @04:23PM (#33547666)

    It's not all about illumination- there is many a occasion where the heat produced by the incandescent bulb is desired; keeping food warm, keeping your pet reptile happy, to name a few.

    I am definately for sanity in resource management, but I can't fathom this banning obsession-

  • by fbjon (692006) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @04:41PM (#33547794) Homepage Journal
    On LEDs in hallways and such: if you have several lamps in one fixture, you can put one LED and fill the others with CFLs. That way you'll get quick and bright light where you need it, and the CFLs follow smoothly, working as "floods".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2010 @04:43PM (#33547804)

    And LEDs don't require you to use a hazmat suit to pick up pieces if you break one (since they contain Mercury).

    LED light bulbs are available [homedepot.com].... pricey, but perhaps worth it?

    As someone who bought the CFLs back when they were "pricey" and had just appeared on the market (and way before there was sign of government regulation to make everyone use them)....buy the LEDs!

    I noticed with the CFLs the tech get better, the prices went down, the quality went up once everyone pretty much had to buy them. The CFL market has kind of stagnated though. No competition, so things are holding steady on quality, innovation, etc. If you want to see CFL or LEDs get better....buy the LED.

    Who would have thought a bunch of free-market loving, bleeding edge techies at slashdot would rather light their homes with candles/whale oil/wood chips/ burning lump of coal/ than a nice little electronic gizmo? What a bunch of luddites.

  • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @05:23PM (#33548174)

    Collective choices have collective consequences, they are a matter of collective choice: the government, which represents you gets to decide. You may decide to freely do whatever you want, and if one of your externality-inducing habits becomes popular, the government gets to stop it. Because that is its job.

    If it didn't, then it would fail at its fundamental role.

  • Re:The easy way out (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LoRdTAW (99712) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @05:26PM (#33548208)

    No point. LED's can be driven off AC directly, you just need a proper ballast resistor in series with the LED. In fact you can drive many LED's in series as well using strait AC. A single rectifying diode and a capacitor could also be used to smooth the clipped waveform.

    The only reason there should be a fan on your bulb is if you have high output LED's that require active cooling. Otherwise inverters, PWM drivers and charge pumping is unnecessary.

  • by MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) * <myfirstnameispaul@gmail.com> on Saturday September 11, 2010 @05:44PM (#33548336) Homepage Journal

    I can only speak to what I see as an importer, and nothing in that article reflects the reality of my business, my customers, my competitors, or my vendors. I wonder if those very large companies are getting some sort of tax breaks or environmental waivers for moving to the U.S. Also not explained is that China is monthly beating its own exporting records.

    There are some products where labor is not the primary cost of concern. Mechanized production is generally the same price everywhere in the world as the primary costs for production are raw materials, which are the same everywhere. The costs of concern will then fall to regulatory requirements and tax policy.

  • Re:Are they SURE!?!? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ehrichweiss (706417) * on Saturday September 11, 2010 @05:51PM (#33548384)

    Actually, after looking at the article...no, it's not the one down the street from me(though that one is closing sometime soon) so the one they're referring to is NOT the last one to close...

  • Re:The easy way out (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Culture20 (968837) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @09:21PM (#33549530)
    Some people can't see the 60Hz flicker. I can happily raise my monitors to huge resolution @60Hz, and only remember when someone complains my monitor is "jumpy". My eyes must "record" at less than 60Hz.
  • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @11:56PM (#33550252)

    HAHAHAHA.

    Not even close. Since I've come here I have seen two type: the front loaders which do not wash and the agitators witch wash badly and destroy your stuff. We live in 2010, and elsewhere (everywhere outside the US and Canada, I guess), you get machines which are top or front loaded (depending on your preference, but the axis is always horizontal), which will wash and dry and take more volume of cloths for less volume of machine than the top loaders. Oh, and when they come out of the drying cycle, there are essentially no creases.

    You are getting ripped of. Horribly. Demand better machines. Buy German.

  • Re:Are they SURE!?!? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skids (119237) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @12:49AM (#33550506) Homepage

    There's still a market (and legal exemption) for specialized incandescents where CFL/LED/HID won't work. Like inside ovens. Maybe that's what's made there.

  • by lgw (121541) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @04:20AM (#33551202) Journal

    What kind of crazy company deals with increased customer demand by in turn demanding the customers buy less product? Seems nuts to me. We could build more nuclear or solar plants until demand is met, or we could have the government stick its nose where it doesn't belong. Fans of totalitarianism love the latter to be sure, from the loght bulbs to how much water you use when you flush the toilet, it's just crazy. Only someone who just doesn't value personal liberty could say that kind of thing is a good trade off.

  • Re:The easy way out (Score:3, Interesting)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @11:08AM (#33552734) Journal

    I like the Concept of LED bulbs but not the expense. Last I checked it was over $50 for a 60 watt equivalent.

    As for CFLs? I hate them. Conventional edison bulbs are superior tech to CFLs by eliminating mercury poisoning, dim turnons, premature heat-death, and high cost. I've had CFLs burn out prematurely (thus wasting $3 where a conventional bulb is only 20 cents). The CFLs turn-on and then take 4-5 minutes to reach full brightness (so I could read my book), or else not turn on at all during freezing winters. I hate them.

    And don't call me a "troll". I am an electrical engineer and am allowed to post my professional opinion about the CFL.

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