Environmental Protection Agency Recognizes Colorado State for ‘green Lights’ Program that Saves Taxpayers $150,000 Annually

The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized Colorado State University for improving lighting efficiency that now saves state taxpayers nearly $150,000 a year on lighting costs alone.

The EPA’s Green Lights program is the latest accomplishment in a 15-year, wide-ranging energy conservation program that saves the university some $2 million annually in utility costs. Green Lights encourages public institutions, industry and government facilities to reduce energy use and limit pollution by installing efficient lighting systems.

An EPA audit estimates that, after seven years in the program, the university saves about $148,000 each year. That’s the equivalent of 13 cents a square foot for the campus, which totals 5 million square feet, or nearly 3.5 million kilowatt hours. The pollution reduction is equivalent to planting 691 acres of new trees or removing 564 cars from the road annually.

"Colorado State University takes seriously its responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer funds as well as introducing the best practices to protect the environment," said Gerald Bomotti, vice president for administrative services. "I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of our facilities staff in achieving this outstanding recognition. It is one of the many efficiency and cost-saving measures that Colorado State has implemented over the course of the past few years."

According to John Morris, manager of facilities operations, Colorado State’s lighting efficiency program started much earlier than the Green Lights program and has achieved even greater savings, in both dollars and energy, than the EPA recognizes.

"Actually, it goes back to the 1970s, right after the oil embargo," Morris said. "At that time, we unplugged or did without. We changed four-lamp fixtures into two-lamp ones, which lowered the light levels but met lighting standards. Sometime in the 1980s we replaced all the 40-watt fluorescent bulbs with 34-watt bulbs.

"Then, as technology continued to change, we replaced all the ballast transformers (in fluorescent fixtures) from magnetic types to hybrids of magnetics and electronics. Those devices reduced the wattage used still more. So by the late 1980s we already had a fairly efficient system."

In the mid-1980s, Colorado State issued bonds to fund not just lighting improvements but better heating and ventilation controls, insulation and storm windows. The bonds were paid back by savings in utility costs in about a decade, at no cost to taxpayers.

"We’re now saving about $2 million a year in energy conservation costs" over the 1980 figures, Morris said. The EPA provides no funding for the Green Lights or related programs.

When Green Lights began in the early 1990s, Heidi Mechtenberg, an engineering technician who works with Morris, began a building-by-building audit. She found that the 1980s projects had focused just on the fluorescent system, and that eliminating inefficiencies and adding new technologies such as occupancy sensors that turn off lights in unoccupied rooms would also pay off.

"Believe me, I’ve been in just about every single room on this campus, surveying lights," she said. "We found in doing the survey some specific areas that needed attention. For example, we had a lot of exit signs using a type of bulb that used a lot of energy and burned out quickly. The new technology uses LEDs (light-emitting diodes). They use very little energy, and there’s literally no maintenance."

Morris said Green Lights is part of a larger EPA program called Energy Star, designed to reduce pollution by diminishing the demand for power. While Green Lights has, in fact, helped improve the campus, Morris believes the university is so far ahead of the curve that it isn’t getting credit for two-and-a-half decades of responsible energy conservation and savings, and so hasn’t joined Energy Star.

"We realized after we affiliated with Green Lights that our efforts are so far ahead, we’re already doing most of the things that (EPA’s broader) Energy Star program proposes," said Mechtenberg.

According to Morris, "Most of our lighting improvements were in place prior to our joining the EPA (program). They were putting out press releases for companies that hadn’t done anything for 20 years and then retrofitted all at once, so we were a little frustrated in our lack of recognition.

"Think of a typical corporate office building that has perhaps 100,000 square-feet. We’re sitting here with roughly 5 million square feet. It’s a monumental task just to audit all that space."

The savings have been worth it.

"When you consider that the utility bills for campus are about $7 million annually, including housing, you have to realize that these efforts have saved about $2 million from what that figure would be," Morris said.