The cost of free light bulbs

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Light. A question that’s puzzled mankind for way too long is finally going to be answered, thanks to our very own environment minister, Shannon Phillips.

‘How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb?’ Well, all you need do is give the Alberta government a call and the requisite number will plod around to your house at some future allotted date to demonstrate, live and in person, the precise manpower required as they remove those naughty old incandescent bulbs and screw in fancy new approved LED ones.

This, as you are most likely aware by now, is part of the NDP’s plan to save the planet one of your tax dollars at a time. In this particular case that will be accomplished by spending a tad over 21 million of those dollars on a scheme Lewis Carroll himself would have rejected out of hand if pitched as a potential plot for the further adventures of Alice.

Because it’s not only light bulbs the government is intent on installing in our homes but also low-flow shower heads, smart thermostats and high efficiency power bars.

This announcement came the same week Joe Ceci – our provincial treasurer – gave us the third quarter update on Alberta’s finances, revealing we’re merrily on track to spend $10.8-billion more than we take in this current financial year. Ceci also told us he sees green shoots emerging – perhaps he means our economy’s transforming from oil and gas into the wholesale farming of asparagus.

There was even a vague mention of a balanced budget by 2023, but only the most gullible would actually believe such a thing – as Phillips showed almost before Ceci could leave the podium, coming up with details on where to spend some of the initial cash the carbon tax rakes in. (Don’t fret, the whole program, which will involve solar panels, washing machines, fridges and toilets, is going to cost well over half a billion. Hey, but it’s free, folks.)

Ah, but that’s the golden future. Let’s get back to reality. To misquote James Carville’s advice to Bill Clinton – it’s the light bulbs, stupid.

Because not only are we getting bulbs to reduce energy usage but, as mentioned earlier, we’re also getting some handy people to come around to our homes and install all these shiny thingies. Yes, and again all of this is supposed to be ‘free’ – that’s if you discount taxes paid and money borrowed.

The true lunacy of this was brought home by one sneaky Albertan who, in commenting on the announcement a week ago, described how he’ll remove the LED bulbs he’d recently bought and installed – this lad is obviously one of those expert do-it-yourselfers who can actually screw in a light bulb unaided – and replace them with the cheap, old type, before calling the government so they can nip along with a set of the newer bulbs. And, hey presto, he’s nabbed himself some spares.

This is daft. As anyone who’s ever bought one of those so-called high efficiency furnaces can attest, the advertised projected yearly savings often turn out to be hogwash.

Even if we accept this as a reasonable idea and these showerheads and light bulbs will cut our consumption then please give us poor citizens some credit because, hey Phillips, we can install them ourselves.

This is the high northern plain where, just over a century ago, people lived in soddies as they broke virgin land. Have we shrunk to the point the government needs to pay someone to screw in a light bulb for us?

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.

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