Lights out on lighting rebates: Celebrating 20 years of savings

June 23, 2023 | 5 min read

Beginning in July 2023, some of Efficiency Vermont’s lighting incentives will come to an end. And by January 1, 2024, there will only be energy-efficient lighting for sale in Vermont. Why? Incentives are no longer needed to help Vermonters make the best choice.

Thanks to strong federal and state efficiency standards, LEDs are now the norm. Starting in 2024, a new Vermont law bans the sale of less efficient bulbs, including most fluorescents. This comes after years of work from Efficiency Vermont and our partners to transform the lighting market in Vermont and nationwide.

A lightbulb moment – or two

When Efficiency Vermont started, in 1999, incandescent lightbulbs lit up most homes and businesses in Vermont. They were widely available and the least expensive option on the shelves. But the real cost showed up once they turned on. Incandescent bulbs waste over 90% of the electricity they use making heat, rather than light.

At the time, the most efficient alternative was the compact fluorescent lightbulb (or CFL). The savings were significant (around 25% more efficient than incandescent bulbs), but they lacked the color and brightness customers were looking for. They also contain mercury, which is harmful to humans and the environment. (If you currently have fluorescent tubes you’re phasing out in your home or business, be sure to dispose of them properly.)

Before long, there was a new player in town. LEDs (named for “light-emitting diodes”) were roughly 75% more efficient than incandescent bulbs and offered a variety of color temperatures and brightness levels. But they were also significantly more expensive than incandescent bulbs, so we offered rebates to bring down the cost.

By 2016, LEDs were so cost-effective that Efficiency Vermont phased out all incentives for CFLs and turned our efforts to promoting ENERGY STAR® LEDs. This led to what’s known as a market transformation.

What does it mean to transform a market?

A market transformation happens when consumers buy more and more of the efficient version of a product. Eventually, the efficient product becomes the baseline. Inefficient products are phased out. When a market transforms, customers see a better product without having to make a conscious choice to get it. Lighting in Vermont has gone through two transformations. First from incandescents to fluorescents, and next from fluorescents to LEDs.

Efficiency Vermont works to achieve market transformation using a variety of tools. Incentives, like rebates or discounts, are one tool in the toolbox. Incentives always work best when paired with other tools:

  • Education and outreach to customers and contractors
  • Engaging with retailers and distributors on stocking practices
  • Regulations and standards to encourage efficiency at the state and federal level
  • Partnership with manufacturers to build energy-efficient products that meet consumer’s needs

Over time, these tools increase demand for the technology. Increased demand increases supply. Increased supply brings the upfront cost down. When more people can access the product, some of these tools aren’t needed.

Lights, camera, action!

Market transformation starts beyond Vermont. Nationally, ENERGY STAR tests products to verify their efficiency and quality. Efficiency Vermont partnered with ENERGY STAR for over 20 years to bring energy-saving products to Vermont and advocate for strong federal lighting standards. These standards set a baseline efficiency for lightbulbs in Vermont and nationwide.

Efficiency Vermont worked with distributors, retailers, and contractors to offer training on the benefits of efficient lighting and provide marketing materials to help them communicate these benefits to their customers.

When we initially started promoting lighting, we offered coupons for new lightbulbs. Customers had to mail in the coupons to receive a rebate. In recent years, efficient lighting has been discounted at the store. That meant no extra work for the customer to see a lower price on an efficient product.

1999- Present Day Market transformation only works if everyone has access to the new product. Incentives might not lower the cost enough for a low-income household. That’s why Efficiency Vermont partnered with retailers, community groups, and low-income advocates to provide free lightbulbs at community events and through direct outreach.

1999-2005 Twisty CFL bulbs became synonymous with efficiency for many years. The first Efficiency Vermont mascot, Wattson, sported a curly CFL tail. He appeared at events around the state, even getting to hang out with the Lake Monsters’ mascot, Champ!

2008 We introduced the world to “Jesse Watts.” This rootin’ tootin’ cowboy CFL touted the benefits of switching out your lightbulbs from outside a saloon or around a campfire.

2012-2013 We welcomed the “Dawn of a New Era” of new shapes and sizes of CFL bulbs to meet more customer needs.

2014 Efficiency Vermont celebrated that “Savings is always in season” with an animated series that aired each season and noted that efficient lighting can help Vermonters save all year round.

2016 One whimsical video series asked the viewer to consider how their life would be different if they used more efficient products. ENERGY STAR Dean and ENERGY STAR Barb found love, better light, and energy savings.

This isn’t the end of lighting savings. Simple controls or timers can ensure lights are only on when they’re needed. New technology like smart lighting can help increase savings and control in homes and businesses. These tools can help maximize natural light and reduce the use (of artificial lighting. This can make a space more comfortable and inviting while also saving money. If you’re looking for savings, give us a call. We can look at what lighting you have and help you make the best choice for your home or business.

“Going 100% LED was the right choice for my business. I am saving thousands of dollars every year on my electric bills at no impact to the quality of light for displaying our products.”

Dwight Sargent , Owner, Pompanoosuc Mills

But this milestone calls for celebration! A celebration of the journey from the humble incandescent, to the noble LED—a low-cost alternative to the old standard. A celebration of the fact that Vermonters are saving thousands of dollars every year. And a celebration of the power of one small state to help light the way for the whole country.