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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Lights Program Offers Reduced Electricity Costs and Positive Publicity


January 1, 1999

Read Time

4 minutes


Illinois Municipal Review, December 1992

Illinois municipalities, like all public bodies, strive to reduce their operational costs, and at the same time gain publicity as being environmentally conscious. An innovative U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program started last year, called "Green Lights," offers municipalities in Illinois the opportunity to achieve both these goals.

Green Lights is a voluntary program open to municipalities, other public bodies and corporations. Its focus is on energy-efficient lighting in offices, warehouses, and other buildings. Green Lights municipal partners sign a non-binding agreement with EPA, which in turn, publicizes the municipalities as environmentally conscious and provides state-of-the-art information on the most energy efficient lighting systems. In exchange, municipal partners agree to audit lighting systems at 90 percent of their space during a five-year period. Municipal partners also agree to install more efficient lighting, if, and only if, the new technologies both save money and do not sacrifice lighting quality. Municipalities can leave the program at any time, even without notice, and no enforcement action can arise from participation in, or withdrawal from, the Green Lights Program.

Some of the more popular Green Lights technologies installed by participants through the program include the following:

Fluorescent bulbs – Fluorescent bulbs use one-quarter to one-third of the electricity of conventional incandescent bulbs and last 10 to 13 times longer. Additionally, replacement of older fluorescent lamps with new high-quality, high-efficient fluorescent lamps not only saves money, but also produces more flattering light.

Occupancy Sensors – An occupancy sensor is an automatic switch that controls lighting based on the presence or absence of people. It can save at least 30 to 50 percent of the energy used for lighting.

Electronic Ballasts – Ballasts are necessary to start and operate fluorescent lights. Changing from conventional magnetic ballasts to electronic ballasts can reduce energy use up to 25 percent.

Light Sensors and Reflectors – Lighting sensors dim lights when sunlight can supplement light in a room. Reflectors enhance and properly direct light.

Public bodies and corporations that have joined the program have uniformly saved money. Since the program began in 2005, 24 public bodies have joined Green Lights, in addition to several public schools and universities. Over 300 corporations have joined the program, including several which are based in Illinois. Thus far, only one Illinois municipality, the City of Naperville, has joined Green Lights.

The average return on investment for Green Lights participants is 25 percent, and lighting electricity costs have been reduced, on the average, by 50 percent or more, according to recent EPA figures. The State of Maryland was one of Green Lights' first participants. It has already upgraded six buildings totaling 714,000 square feet. Some of Maryland's changes included replacing T12 fluorescent lamps and magnetic ballasts with T8 fluorescent lamps using electronic ballasts. Maryland has also replaced mercury vapor lamps with metal halide lamps, incandescent lamps with fluorescent lamps and incandescent exit signs with Light-Emitting Diode (LED) signs. According to EPA, the average electricity energy savings for these upgrades was 44 percent, and the average internal rate of return was 50 percent. Maryland is so pleased with these results that it plans to use Green Lights technologies at another 100 buildings.

In addition to information on energy-efficient lighting, EPA offers Green Lights municipalities advice as to financing their lighting changes. Some utilities offer rebates for installation of many of the Green Lights technologies. EPA also assists municipalities in publicizing their participation in the program through newsletters, press releases, and by working with municipalities to distribute ready-to-use promotional materials such as posters, stickers and buttons showing that the cities care about the environment.

In addition to cost savings and positive publicity, Illinois municipalities joining Green Lights can encourage business development, which can increase the municipal tax base. Green Lights lowers electricity demand, and thus, reduces utilities' emissions of pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act and other environmental statutes. For example, according to EPA, if Green Lights technologies were employed everywhere profitably, the nation's electricity use would be reduced by 10 percent. This translates to a reduction in carbon monoxide emissions from power plants of 202 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 44 million cars off the road, according to EPA. Fewer utility emissions will make it more likely that certain areas in Illinois will satisfy air quality and other regulatory standards. As a result, corporations looking to develop in these cleaner areas will face less stringent environmental requirements, as will the citizens who drive cars or use public transportation in these areas.

EPA is available to answer municipalities' questions about Green Lights, and has substantial amounts of literature explaining how municipalities can begin to incorporate energy-efficient lighting changes. To receive more information on the program, call the Green Lights Hotline at 202-775-6650.

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