Nov. 14, 2002
SARAH HILL - GUEST COLUMNIST
The chandelier at the Robbins Library's entrance hall.
The Robbins Library should save around $9,000 a year in electricity costs, thanks to its collaboration with Sustainable Arlington and NSTAR to replace old lights with more efficient fixtures.
The entrance hall of the Robbins Library is a striking space, rising four stories in an open atrium, and lit by one huge, historic chandelier that holds 20 bulbs. In the past, these lights burned out quickly due to the short life of standard incandescent bulbs.
Now, 20 new compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) glow in the chandelier and the entrance hall is noticeably brighter. These new lights are expected to last eight times longer before needing replacement and use just a fraction of the electricity of the old lights.
Although the chandelier is the most noticeable change, the Robbins Library has actually replaced more than 800 lighting fixtures this summer in a move that is projected to save $9,000 in electricity each year. The retrofit was funded in part using Massachusetts state energy efficiency funds administered by NSTAR Electric.
In April 2001, Maryellen Loud, director of the Robbins Library, was approached by members of Sustainable Arlington, a local citizens group under Vision 2020 that promotes energy efficiency.
"Our goal is to raise awareness of how easily we can all save money and energy while reducing our environmental impacts, and where better to begin than the town library," said Ryan Katofsky of Sustainable Arlington.
Sustainable Arlington proposed that the library replace 38, 75-watt bulbs in decorative wall sconces in the reading room with CFLs. Loud was initially concerned about the aesthetics of changing the lighting, but the project went forward when NSTAR donated a supply of 20-Watt CFLs.
"People don't seem to notice the change, but several areas of the library are actually brighter," remarked Loud.
Building on this success, Sustainable Arlington contacted Augie Pimentel, the program manager of NSTAR's Small Commercial and Industrial Energy Efficiency Program. Pimentel arranged for an energy audit of all of the Robbins' lighting, which led to a proposal to replace 800 fixtures at a cost of nearly $40,000.
NSTAR projected at this price, the new lighting would pay for itself through energy savings in about four years. NSTAR then made the library a deal that Loud couldn't refuse: under the Small Commercial and Industrial program the utility picked up $32,000 of the $40,000 project cost, lowering the payback time to under a year.
NSTAR's contractor, Harris Energy, began to work floor by floor, replacing almost all the old lighting with new, energy-efficient products. The project is now complete and Loud is waiting for the next few months' electricity bills to confirm the efficiency savings.
One thing is already clear: the quality of the library's lighting has also improved. The new lighting is brighter, whiter, and better for reading, which is what libraries are all about.
"During tight budget times, I'm very excited that we were able to save money, yet still provide the same or better quality lighting for our customers," said Loud.
Although the CFLs use about a quarter the electricity of the old bulbs, they produce just as much light and last up to eight times as long. CFLs are sold at hardware and other stores in Arlington and are available in a variety of styles and levels of brightness. More and more people also have CFLs at home, where they are best in high-use fixtures, such as porch lights or indoor lamps that are on the most.
CFLs usually cost between $5 to 10 each and easily pay for themselves through electricity savings. NSTAR is currently offering $3 rebates on CFLs to residential customers. The rebate is available at several retailers, through NSTAR's "Energy Star Lights" catalog, by calling 1-800-473-9150 and on the web at www.energyguide.com.
The NSTAR Small Commercial and Industrial program is open to both the public and private sector buildings, and is not just limited to lighting. Substantial electricity savings can be achieved by improving old air-conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration equipment.
The first step is to schedule a free energy audit to evaluate the electricity savings potential and determine program eligibility. Sustainable Arlington is now working with the Arlington schools to have energy audits done at many of the older school buildings.
Sarah Hill is a member of Sustainable Arlington.