Old bulbs create bright spot for lighting companies

Regional lighting companies and suppliers are reaping a windfall from a U.S. Energy Department mandate to eliminated high-energy fluorescent lighting.

The mandate also is leading to substantial savings for businesses that have made the switch to low-wattage bulbs.

Beginning July 1, lighting manufacturers will stop producing T12 florescent light bulb and ballasts in favor of T8 lighting systems as mandated by the federal agency in a 2009 ruling.

Energy usage for T12 bulbs ranges from 40 to 130 watts depending on the size of the bulb, while energy usage for T8 bulbs ranges from 15 to 70 watts, says Kyle McClelland, owner of Have Lights Will Travel.

It may not seem like much, but the reduced energy consumption leads to substantial savings for mid- to large-sized businesses. Payback on investment is targeted for about 12 months or more, but a lighting retrofit at Sportif USA's outlet store netted a positive return in just two months, says Mike Youngblood, vice president of information systems/customer service.

Sportif USA's outlet store at 1415 Greg St. switched to T8 lighting in November and has shaved nearly $800 a month from his power bills. And with rebates from NV Energy covering nearly 90 percent of the $14,600 project cost, Youngblood says, the decision to replace 78 outdated lighting bulbs and ballasts in his 30,000-square-foot building was basically a no-brainer.

"The cost to us was virtually nothing," Youngblood says. "The cost was about $1,500, and we have saved in just pure bills $2,400 in three months. We literally were in the positive in two months."

And it's savings the company can expect to bank each month, he adds.

"This is legitimate. It is electricity, not natural gas where you are dependent on weather conditions. We are open the same hours and are the same size as last year, so it is a pretty same comparison," he says.

The switch to energy-efficient lighting also fits with the company's focus on being green, Youngblood adds. The company researched lighting upgrades several years ago, but the discounts weren't as good as those being offered today.

"They were too big to ignore. It was just too easy and too profitable not to do it. It's one of those things you look at and say, 'It's too good to be true,' but it wasn't."

Faye Anderson, communication manager for NV Energy, says the rebates for lighting are just one component of the company's Sure Bet Commercial Incentive Program. Under the Sure Bet program, NV Energy offers companies switching from T12 to T8 lighting $3 for a 4-foot light, and up to $7 for reduced-wattage T8 bulbs.

New fixtures must have electronic ballasts instead of outdated magnetic ballasts, Anderson notes. A fixture's ballast powers the lights.

NV Energy will end the rebate program at the end of the year. Part of the rebate program includes a site assessment to determine energy savings, Anderson says.

"They have to have an inspection so we get a snapshot before and then show them at the end of it what the incentive is; that is how your incentive is calculated."

Sean Holliday, outdoor sales rep for Statewide Lighting, says his company hasn't yet seen much of an increase in business from upcoming T12 ban because most businesses in the Truckee Meadows still have a decent supply of the older bulbs.

Once businesses burn through their existing inventory, Statewide expects to sell the rest of its stock, but Holliday says the longtime Reno lighting company has been primarily selling energy-efficient T8 bulbs for the past five years.

Tony Ragonese, sales associate for Bulbman, says he's been telling customers for quite some time about the need to switch lighting systems. The store still sells T12 lights, and will continue to sell them until its inventory is depleted.

"I tell everyone that comes to the front counter that has a T12 light that they won't be available outside of our remaining stock," Ragonese says.

Bulbman has seen an uptick in sales from a retrofit kit that business owners can use to change ballasts and bulbs to accommodate T8 lights. The kits, especially popular with property maintenance customers, Ragonese says, turns a large 8-foot bulb into two 4-foot lights with an electronic ballast.

"That way you get into bulbs that still are available, and you don't have to replace the whole fixture."

The cost for replacing outdated ballasts varies, says McClelland of Have Lights Will Travel, but they typically range from $16 to $60 depending on the number of bulbs in the fixture and type of bulbs that customers choose.

Have Lights will travel has completed six lighting retrofits this year, and McClelland expects retrofits to account for 75 to 80 percent of his revenues in 2012.

"This gives us a huge chunk of our business, and we will probably have to hire on employees to take on all the business we get," he says. The company's largest project is an upcoming retrofit at Sports West Athletic Club. Have Lights Will Travel will replace 230 T12 fixtures holding more than 800 bulbs with new ballasts and T8 bulbs. Sports West is projected to have less than a 12-month payback on its investment, McClelland says.

Mark Liske, vice president of operations for Nevada Lighting Representatives, says many larger businesses and property owners in the Truckee Meadows have already made the switch to more energy-efficient lighting systems. The push now, he says, is with using LED lighting.

Nevada Lighting saw a big rise in business from retrofitting intersections in the Reno-Sparks area with LED fixtures, which led to a roughly 60 percent reduction in energy usage, Liske says. Now, he adds, more people are focusing on using the lights indoors.

About 50 to 75 percent of new jobs in the Reno-Sparks area have LED lighting specified, Liske says.


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