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$60 light bulb comes down in price -- just in time for Earth Day

The $60 LED light bulb is coming down in price – just in time for Earth Day. The bulb's manufacturer and select utilities on Sunday are starting rebates of up to $25, but they still need to convince folks that it’s worth paying upfront to save over time.

The pitch: the 10W bulb will last 30,000 hours and save some $165 over its lifetime compared to a similar 60W incandescent -- plus it's just as bright.

The odd-looking bulb (watch the video above for a demonstration) was unveiled last year and word then was that it'd cost around $60. But the electronics conglomerate Philips this week said its brainchild would be on store shelves with a $50 MSRP, less an instant $10 rebate. On top of that utilities will have rebates of $15-$25 starting on Earth Day.

But that's still at least 15 times more expensive than incandescent bulbs, which are being phased out by a Bush administration law because of their inefficiency.

The LED bulb did win a $10 million federal prize for lighting efficiency last year. But it was also the only entrant and the Department of Energy contest requires that the winning bulb be sold for $22 or less in its first year on the market.

Phillips, for its part, is bullish on its bulb.

"Because the new bulb is 83 percent more energy efficient than the standard 60-Watt incandescent, consumers can now experience new savings for their pocketbooks," Philips North America executive Ed Crawford said in a statement announcing the rebates.

"We are looking at a wholesale change in buying lighting technology, going from a disposable good to a durable good," he added. "Consumers are no longer looking at a product that will last just six months to a year, they are looking at a product that is much more efficient and will be with them for decades."

The LED light uses only 10 watts of power, and is designed to last 30 times longer than an incandescent. If that holds up, it would mean saving about $8 per year in electricity at four hours of use a day.

Backers hope that LED lights will overtake compact fluorescent bulbs, now the market mainstream, but those are much cheaper at $5 or so a pop. 

Time will tell about claim
Moreover, early problems with CFLs, where many buyers said they lasted far less than advertised, could resurface with LED bulbs.

That 30,000 hour claim "is easy to get away with because it is difficult to know ahead of time how long a bulb will last," says Brian McGraw, an energy policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank espousing free markets and limited government.

"I currently use CFLs in my house," he adds. "I think they likely save some money over incandescent, but suspect the overall effect is pretty minimal."

The institute doesn't support the rebate program either. "Electricity/lighting markets will generally tend towards the best outcome without any interference," says McGraw. "Consumers are adequately prepared to decide what kind of lighting (LED, incandescent, CFL, etc.) and balance that with how much energy each product uses."

McGraw says he'd use LED bulbs if he got them for free, but he doesn't plan on buying any -- mostly because he'd feel the need to take them with him if he moves around over the next few years.

Still, he wouldn't blame anyone opposed to rebates and incentives, especially those subsidized by taxpayers, for using them.

"I don’t think its unprincipled to oppose the passage of a law that gives rebates for purchases like this, but to still take advantage of the rebates," he says. After all, I have to pay taxes, too."

Tester-in-chief tries it
So how does the bulb feel in the real world? At my home, the wife's the tester-in-chief so I swapped the LED bulb into her nightstand lamp and waited for a reaction.

None came, which is a good thing -- in the past, changing to a compact fluorescent came with a groan about the color or lack of brightness.

I prompted her with "You notice anything different" -- to which she said "No."

When I explained the new bulb and its properties she was quite happy to have one.

When I mentioned it was $25 after a rebate, she shouted: "What!"

She calmed down after I explained it was a test bulb from work. And while she hasn't given the bulb back, I don't think she's quite ready to invest in them for the rest of the house.

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