Responding to three individually filed exception requests, the U.S. Department of Energy has postponed by two years — until July 14, 2014 — the phase-out date for 700-series T8 general service fluorescent lamps (GSFLs) manufactured by GE Lighting (GE), Osram Sylvania, Inc. (OSI), and Philips Lighting Co, according to theNational Lighting Bureau (NLB). Only companies that have been excepted by the Energy Department may continue to manufacture or import the T8 GSFLs in question beyond July 14, 2012. The lamps involved are the 4-foot medium bi-pin, 2-foot U-shaped, 8-foot Slimline, and 8-foot high-output 700-series T-8s.

The Energy Department's Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) granted the extensions to GE, OSI, and Philips. Companies must petition the OHA individually. OHA grants requests to individual companies, not to the industry as a whole.

The basis for the exceptions was the growing scarcity and escalating cost of the rare-earth oxides used to manufacture the phosphors intrinsic to the proper functioning of fluorescent lamps. The severe supply/cost difficulties, which were not foreseen when the Energy Department's Lamp Rulemaking of 2009 wrapped up — have been caused by manufacturing and export regulations subsequently instituted by China. According to the OHA ruling, "China now controls approximately 97% of the world-wide supply of rare earth elements and rare earth oxides and has adopted policies that have drastically reduced the volumes of rare earth elements and oxides that can be exported to U.S. lighting manufacturers."

The impact of China’s rare-earth market manipulations is underscored by a National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) report that world prices for terbium increased at an annual rate of more than 400% in 2011; for europium oxides, the 2011 escalation rate exceeded 500%. Nor is any near-term relief in sight. China's supply constriction is occurring at the same time that worldwide demand for rare-earth oxides is spiking because of the impending compliance date of the new GSFL standards, as well as competing demand for rare-earth oxides on the part of manufacturers of computers, televisions, wind turbines, and motors, among other equipment.

According to National Lighting Bureau Chair Howard P. Lewis (Lighting Alternatives, Inc.), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America’s (IES) representative on the Bureau board of directors, had the 700-series T8 phase-out been allowed to take effect on July 14, 800-series T8s would have been among the most logical alternatives. The cost of 800-series T8s exceeds that of 700-series T8s because the rare-earth content of 800-series T8s significantly exceeds that of 700-series T8s. "This ruling enhances affordability at a time when it's needed," said Lewis. "We applaud the Energy Departmetn for its good judgment, and GE, OSI, and Philips for seeking the exceptions."

The three companies are NLB sponsors.

A copy of the OHA ruling is available on request to info@nlb.org. Reportedly, other manufacturers may be in the process of seeking an exception.