What $50 Light Bulbs, Chevy Volts, and Higher Gas Prices Have In Common

Bill Hobbs
By Bill Hobbs | March 11, 2012 | 1:29 PM EDT

The same economic and energy policy that brought you the heavily taxpayer-subsidized, poorly-selling, underwhelming Chevy Volt has now put a fantastic new light bulb on store shelves, where it is destined to sit mostly un-purchased just like the Volt.

Meet the $50 "green" light bulb, courtesy of the Washington Post:

"The U.S. government last year announced a $10 million award, dubbed the 'L Prize,' for any manufacturer that could create a 'green' but affordable light bulb. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the prize would spur industry to offer the costly bulbs, known as LEDs, at prices 'affordable for American families.' There was also a 'Buy America' component. Portions of the bulb would have to be made in the United States. Now the winning bulb is on the market. The price is $50. Retailers said the bulb, made by Philips, is likely to be too pricey to have broad appeal. Similar LED bulbs are less than half the cost."

It's rather shocking that Secretary Chu and his boss, President Obama, believe a $50 light bulb is "affordable for American families," until you remember that both Chu and Obama believe Americans need to pay more for gas, too.

The $50 light bulb uses one sixth of the amount of energy to produce as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb, and according to Phillips, maker of the bulb, it is expected to last up to 30,000 hours, which is 30 times as long as an incandescent bulb.

There are already cheaper LED bulbs on the market that use less energy than incandescent bulbs. But, then, there are cars on the market that cost far less than the Chevy Volt - cars that go a lot further than 40 miles before needing to take on a new supply of energy - and yet the Obama administration, seeing how poorly the Volt is selling, is proposing to up the federal tax credit to $10,000 from $7,500 to bribe more Americans into buying one.

Assuming that Phillips' claims regarding the energy usage and longevity of the bulb are true, let's compare the $50 light bulb to those evil 60-watt incandescents.

You can buy a four-pack of GE soft-white 60-watt incandescent bulbs at Sam's Club for $4.88. That's 32 bulbs for $39. If you don't have a Sam's membership, they cost a teeny bit more at Walmart.

If electricity costs you 25 cents per kilowatt hour, then running a 60-watt bulb for one 24-hour day would cost you 36 cents. The $50 light bulb would cost you 3.6 cents. So, over 30,000 hours, the $50 light bulb would save you $405.

How long is 30,000 hours? Three years and five months.

Nobody leaves their lights turned on 24/7/365 of course, so the savings from using the $50 bulb would in fact be spread out over six  or 10 or maybe even 20 years, diffusing the impact of the savings on your finances. (If spread over 10 years, the annual savings would be about $40. By comparison, the increase in the cost of gasoline since Obama became president of almost $2 a gallon costs people $20, $30, even $40 or more every time they fill up their tank.

And, we're talking about just one $50 bulb.

In my 2-bedroom home I would need 16 bulbs - an $800 expense in enhance for "savings" that are spread out over a decade or more, and will only be realized if the lamp isn't knocked over and the bulb broken. (Not only that, but spending $800 on 16 of these $50 light bulbs today, rather than $20 for four four-packs of good ol' fashioned incandescent bulbs means $780 less to spend on other things, like at local merchants and restaurants, or to invest or save for the future.)

The $50 light bulb looks like the Chevy Volt of light bulbs, it will be popular with certain politicians and pundits who think the cure for America's economic and energy woes is government-subsidized green technology, but it will fail with the American people, who don't want it, didn't ask for it and can't afford it.

The Obama administration thinks throwing money at preferred companies selected by ideological agenda is the way to build the American economy. But in the midst of the longest stretch of unemployment above 8 percent since the Great Depression, with gas prices soaring toward $4 a gallon, it's clearly not working.