Retrofits help companies save

Many people have heard the phrase, “It is the little things that add up to big changes.” For Tri-State members, it’s the lighting changes that are adding up to big savings.

Basin Electric Class A member Tri-State G&T Association in Westminster, Colo. has had a successful residential lighting rebate program in place for many years. For the benefit of its larger members, the cooperative expanded the program into commercial businesses. The program rebate includes commercial lighting replacements, LEDs (light-emitting diode), induction street lighting and parking lot lighting, and security lighting.

“The commercial program is starting its third year and it’s growing,” says Keith Emerson, coordinator for Tri-State’s energy marketing and energy services programs. “This is a great way for our member utilities to engage with their business customers. They all have lighting, and once they meet with local electricians, word starts getting around. Just today (Jan. 31), I authorized payment to the smallest business thus far. It has just ten light fixtures,” Emerson says. “Without local involvement and encouragement, these businesses wouldn’t have this kind of opportunity. Many businesses are too small and often too remote to attract companies specializing in lighting retrofits.”

So far in 2012, seven Tri-State member cooperatives have taken part in the commercial lighting retrofit program. In 2011, there were 11 of 44 member co-ops involved.

“With the 116 projects completed last year, we reduced lighting loads a total of more than 1,100 kilowatts (kW). A wide variety of commercial cooperative members took part, including retail, schools, churches, offices, light industrial and even a hospital. A couple of our members chose to retrofit the lighting in their own office buildings,” Emerson says. “I haven’t heard of an unhappy business owner.”

Emerson explains the rebate program is cafeteria style. “Member cooperatives can choose whether or not to adopt them and pass them along to their members. The ones that have chosen to pursue the commercial lighting retrofit program have been doing very well. It takes someone to go out on the local level and promote the program to really make it happen. At Empire Electric, it’s people like Doug Sparks.”

Tri-State member Empire Electric Association, headquartered in Cortez, adopted the program in 2010. Member Services Manager Doug Sparks says Empire Electric did five upgrade projects its first year, resulting in more than $5,000 in rebates. In 2011, there were 10 projects totaling almost $19,000 in rebates.

“I’d say it’s catching on,” he says. “We do an inventory with an electrician of all the lights inside a business’ building and then determine which ones need to be upgraded. There is an easy-to-use spreadsheet to fill out. The rebate is based on calculated savings,” Sparks says.

The first business to give the program a shot was the local newspaper, the Cortez Journal. “They were glad they did — for lighting and ergonomics. Their old light was really poor. They had ’70s style lighting on 30-foot high ceilings. Now with the new efficient fluorescent lights, they can read a newspaper off the floor while saving energy. It’s incredible,” Sparks says.

Gregg Leighton is the co-owner of Notah Dineh, a jewelry and gift store in Cortez. His store’s lighting was upgraded two years ago. He believes the investment pays off quickly due to the fact that his electricity bill is down 20 percent.

“It was a massive job,” Leighton says. “We had almost 200 eight-foot light bulbs replaced, which helped light up the artwork and jewelry in the store. The 10-day project cost about $15,000. Our store is 16,000 square feet. We have a lot of old fixtures and they adapted to these new lights. I’m impressed. Our electricity bill used to be $2,200 a month. Now it is $1,800 a month.”

Tri-State has been offering rebates on various products to its members since 1985. But the latest rebate programs have grown significantly in the last three years.

“Residentially, we see more movement away from CFLs (compact fluorescent light) and into the LEDs. In the commercial market, LED use is up significantly. There are incentives for refrigerator LED case lighting,” Emerson says. This is where liquor stores, convenience stores and grocery stores benefit. “If you can change from fluorescent lighting to LEDs to light the product in the refrigerated display case, you increase the quality of light falling on the displays and make them look better. It also reduces the heat and power use of the lighting system by two-thirds to three-quarters. And that heat no longer has to be removed by the refrigeration system compressors. There’s power saved on the lights and power saved on the refrigeration system itself,” Emerson says.

“With the program, we are able to give $250 per kilowatt of demand reduction capped at 50 percent of the fixture/lamp cost and $20,000 per project. On the refrigerated case retrofit to LED lighting, the incentive is $60 per case door,” Sparks says. “The biggest change and benefit the business owner will see is the reduction in the amount of their electricity bill. The rebate is just icing on the cake.”

Emerson says the impact of the lighting changes can be significant outside the walls of the business as well. Parking lot lights affect Tri-State’s peak use for probably two-thirds of the year. “LED technology can cut the power use of a street light by two-thirds,” Emerson says. “The life of an LED can last 50,000 hours as opposed to 1,000-2,000 hours of an incandescent light bulb. Commercial lighting is a field where lighting uses often extend into our peak periods. With this program, we save kilowatts and kilowatt hours. And if you look at energy efficiency programs around the country, commercial lighting gives you the most bang for your buck because of the way the lights are used.”

By Tracy Fugere, as published in the March-April issue of Basin Today, a publication of Basin Electric Power Cooperative. For more information on Tri-State’s commercial lighting rebate program, contact Keith Emerson at

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