According to Noah Webster, irony is defined as “the incongruity of an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.” In 1997, a California official who shall remain nameless praised legislators who fashioned AB1890, our infamous electricity deregulation bill, by saying “Critics no doubt will continue to identify imperfections, but none can point to a state — or country — that has done so well in replacing its aging electric monopolies with something much more promising.” I wonder, would this qualify as irony in your book, Mr. Webster?

Not to say that California's experience is merely of local significance. Twenty-four other states are currently deregulating their power utilities and most, if not all, are encountering problems with implementation. California may have provided us with a preview of a crisis soon to be repeated elsewhere in the country.

Of course, not everyone here in California is upset. According to a special report on Scholastic.com, Dillon Garrison, a sixth-grade student at St. Monica's School in San Francisco, announced recently, “We got extra play time because the school bells didn't ring! I liked that!”

But those of us old enough to remember the early 1970s (Heaven help us!) may experience a strange sense of déjà vu as our politicians and state bureaucrats begin anew to preach, nay, mandate conservation to business and consumers. Granted, we who practice architectural lighting design in America's 31st state may wish to remind our legislative professionals in Sacramento that Title 24 was created by California. It establishes efficiency requirements in lighting for commercial applications and regulates our selection of fixtures, lamps, ballasts, and control devices such as time clocks or dimmers. In fact, several states have chosen to follow California's lead in developing their own energy conservation laws.

And do we, as lighting professionals, extend these principles beyond commercial design? What about in our homes? Statistically, we're told that 10-15% of our electric consumption at home is used by lighting. Replace one 100W, 750-hour A-19 lamp with a 25W, 10,000-hour Philips Earthlight PL lamp and on electricity alone you could save almost $25 in three years in addition to nearly 100 kilowatt-hours. And yes, Virginia, you can dim them.

Still reaching for that faithful paper box of incandescent light bulbs in the hardware store while wondering who actually buys those squiggly-looking compact fluorescent lamps? How in the world does one get a lampshade onto those things, anyway? Worse, they're not only more expensive, they only come one to a package! Admittance is the first step on the road to recovery, or so that old saying goes.

And what about those of us who design for theatre, television, and live productions? We often presume that energy efficiency is irrelevant since “the lights are only on for short periods of time” and besides, that's not supposed to be a consideration in our work. But electricity is often the most expensive of all utility costs paid by stage and studio facilities. Plus, of course, there are the hidden costs of higher-wattage lamps such as labor and material costs to constantly replace gel, additional power for air-conditioning systems, wear and tear on the fixtures, sockets, plugs, and so on.

As an industry, we praised the introduction of Entertec and Osram Sylvania's 575W HPL lamp as an innovative and exciting replacement for the aging and less efficient 1,000W FEL lamp design. Combined with ETC's Source Four ellipsoidal, color and patterns last longer, 40% less electricity is used, and heat loss is greatly reduced. The resulting demand pushed many manufacturers to produce competitive fixtures and lamps worldwide, accelerating advances in both optical and mechanical design. Life was good.

Enter a 750W version of the HPL lamp and a new base for the ETC Source Four, which has now become de rigueur for many news-breaking projects. Sure, it's not as energy efficient as its 575W predecessor, but it is 20% brighter! One can't help but wonder if it is only a matter of time before the 1,000W HPL version appears and the trend which began to decrease energy consumption in stage lamps takes one step forward, two steps back.

I recall attending a trade show some years back, speaking with a manufacturer that specializes mostly in studio and film lamps. They had just introduced a new incandescent lamp using twice the wattage of their next closest product and I asked who was making fixtures using this lamp.

“There aren't any yet,” was the reply. “Why not?” He smiled at my naiveté and said, “because it is our job to invent the lamps first, then someone else needs to create fixtures which hold them. That's how our business works.” It's been some years since I studied economics, so a little patience, but which part comes first, the supply thing or the demand thing?

On a final note, our firm recently designed a multimedia museum project using more than 200 cyc and groundrow units. Just prior to installation we substituted the previously specified 500W FDF and 1,000W FFT lamps with GE's new T3 HIR lamps at 350W and 675W, respectively. We were thrilled — 33% less heat and electricity, longer-lasting gel, equal lumen output, and color temperature — how could we go wrong? Only one problem. We couldn't get them as fast as we needed them because there wasn't much demand. Not enough designers wanted them, apparently. Isn't that ironic?

In the interest of full disclosure, the author is a dues-paying member of the Sierra Club, is a California resident, and does not have a single squiggly fluorescent lamp in his home. He can be reached at citydesignp@earthlink.net.