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May 25, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Business: Savings bloom from energy conservation Business: Savings bloom from energy conservation (May 25, 2005)

Sunset Publishing and other businesses have switched to energy-efficient fluorescent lamps thanks to Ecology Action

By Marion Softky

Almanac Staff Writer

"With flowers, lighting is everything," says Cindy Smith, owner of Cindy's Flowers & Gifts on Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park, on the parking plaza next to the post office.

Ms. Smith is thrilled with the new fluorescent lights installed in her store through a program called RightLights, operated by Ecology Action of Santa Cruz.

RightLights gave her a free lighting audit, removed her old lights and installed new ones, and paid 80 percent of the cost of the new lights. Even better, the new lights reduce her electric bills, and they look much better than her old lights, she says.

"The light looks more natural," says Ms. Smith. "It was so dark. Now everything looks brighter, like sunshine."

The RightLights program helps small- and medium-sized businesses reduce energy consumption and costs. It's funded by a charge of about 3 percent on utility bills; the money is allocated by the California Public Utilities Commission.

"Energy efficiency is incredibly important," PUC Commissioner Dian Grueneich told an Earth Day gathering at Sunset Publishing, which also upgraded its lighting through the program.

The Sunset event highlighted the expansion of the RightLights program into San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Started in 2002 in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties, the program has helped 2,200 small businesses in five counties, said Gene Thomas, program manager for Ecology Action in Santa Cruz.

This fiscal year the program has spent $6.8 million upgrading business lighting. "We can serve 1,500 more businesses by the end of September," he said.

Sunset, which updated its lighting last year through RightLights, is saving $52,000 a year in electricity bills, said writer Peter Whiteley. The new lights paid for themselves in eight months for the main building, and in six months for the building across Willow Road. "That is a hunk of change," he said.

Energy savings translate into environmental benefits. Sunset calculated that the energy saved in a year is enough to power 52 homes. Another calculation shows the annual reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide -- which feeds global warming -- is equivalent to taking 29 cars off the road, or planting 46 acres of trees.

"And that's just one company," Mr. Whitely said.
How it works

At least a dozen businesses in the Menlo Park area have obtained new lighting through RightLights, said Cliff Kramer, a lighting specialist who has been going door-to-door at local stores.

Allan Aldrich of Menlo Florist, a family business on Santa Cruz Avenue for 54 years, is another satisfied customer. "I'm saving money on my electric bill; that's the main thing," he said. "It's brighter than it was before."

When Mr. Kramer makes a call, he offers a free lighting audit. He will then prepare an estimate, which can include a rebate of up to 80 percent of the cost of new energy-efficient lights. He also arranges for installation by a contractor.

"It's giving them information so they can make an informed decision," he said. "And I leave them with free light bulbs."

Those free light bulbs saved Ms. Smith of Cindy's Flowers & Gifts $100 a month. She remembers being suspicious when Mr. Kramer first walked in cold. She thought he was trying to sell something, until he told her, "I'm trying to give you something."

Ms. Smith ended up paying $277 for about $1,300 worth of lights. And the installation was a breeze; the contractors were fast and careful, she said. They also removed old ballasts with PCBs and toxics.

Ms. Smith said the new lights are much better than the old fluorescent tubes, which had a bad reputation. "These don't flicker; they don't buzz; they aren't blue," she said.

The technology has improved from the bad old days, Mr. Thomas of Ecology Action noted. There are now 1,500 different kinds of compact fluorescent lamps. They are continuing to improve, and the cost is coming down.

The new lights may be more expensive, but they make up for it in length of life and cost of electricity, Mr. Thomas said. "They use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times as long."

Mr. Kramer noted that most of the cost of lighting goes for electricity. For every $25 spent on light, $1 typically goes for the bulb, $2 for labor, and $22 for energy, he said.

"A lot of business owners really need the cash."
INFORMATION

RightLights has handled complete retrofits for at least 12 local businesses, including: Sunset Publishing, Cindy's Flowers & Gifts, the Junior League Shop, Cook's Seafood, Menlo Florist, Menlo Park Academy of Dance, Runner's High, Paper Chase, Clothing Solutions, Oh, Gerry's Cakes, Los Primos, and Round Table Pizza in Ladera. For information, call 1-888-846-5050, or go to rightlights.org.


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