Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) last so long that renters may feel the up-front cost isn't worth it—by the time the bulbs need replacing in a decade or so, they'll have long since moved out.
Photo by Jeff Miller
In Madison, Wisconsin, as in many American cities, most residents are renters. Recognizing that renters can't reasonably be expected to make investments for future tenants, the Sierra Club teamed up with the city council (known in Madison as the Common Council) to introduce an energy-saving proposal that is a win for everyone.
On March 6, Wisconsin Sierra Club organizer Jennifer Feyerherm and city alder Austin King jointly announced an ordinance requiring CFLs in all 50,000 rental properties in Madison. In addition to lasting ten times longer, CFLs use one-quarter the electricity of incandescent bulbs. The move will save enough electricity to power 4,000 homes, eliminate more than 35,000 tons of global warming pollutants—the equivalent of taking 6,000 cars off the road—and save Madison rental properties more than $2 million annually on their collective utility bill.
"The idea originated with the local Sierra Club group," says Feyerherm. "We were looking for investments that had very quick payback that we could use to showcase the economic benefits of energy efficiency. Light bulbs and exit signs turned out to be two things that paid back very quickly, so we suggested the idea to Alder King and he ran with it."
Under the ordinance, rental property owners will be required to install CFLs in common areas and "fixed in-unit fixtures." The ordinance also requires old-fashioned exit signs to be replaced with modern LED (light emitting diode) fixtures. LED exit signs consume 80 to 95 percent less energy than typical exit signs and can last 25 years, compared to about a year for old-fashioned signs.
"Changing a single common-area bulb that is on 12 hours a day can save $20 a year, and that can mean the difference between a dark, treacherous stairwell and a safe, well-lit stairwell," says Feyerherm.
The ordinance came to a vote before the Common Council in late March, winning 9 to 6, with two abstentions. Good news, right? "Sadly," says Feyerherm, "a simple majority wasn't enough; we needed 11 votes for the measure to pass." But local elections in early April brought new members to the Council who are excited about the ordinance and plan to reintroduce it.
The city's Building Inspection Unit and Fire Department were solidly behind the ordinance because it would enhance the safety of rental properties. "Unfortunately," says Feyerherm, "representatives from those two offices were not at the council meeting where the vote occurred, and I believe that played a role in how it went. We'll have them front and center for Round 2, and indications are that the ordinance will likely pass."
Madison became a Cool City in May 2005 when Mayor Dave Cieslewisz signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to cut global warming emissions locally. The Sierra Club's Cool Cities campaign is active in all 50 states, prodding local governments to sign the pledge—at this writing, 464 mayors representing more than 62 million Americans have done so. The Cool Cities project then works with local elected officials to help them develop and implement an action plan.
Feyerherm says to her knowledge the Madison ordinance is the first in the U.S. that would mandate energy-saving measures for rental properties. But just north of the border, the province of Ontario and the national government of Canada are both considering outright bans on the sale of incandescent bulbs. Australia is already mandating a nationwide phase-out of incandescents by 2010.
Learn more about smart energy solutions the Sierra Club is promoting to help combat global warming.
Photos used with permission.