Madera County scores big energy savings with efficiency lighting project

After most of Madera County’s staff quit for the day, crews of electricians went to work the past couple of weeks upgrading the existing lighting in many county buildings.

However, the measures don’t look like much until the casual observer knows what to look for.

Thousands of old inch-diameter fluorescents have been replaced with skinner bulbs – called T8s in light lingo. These new bulbs are 5/8-inch in diameter and use significantly less power while providing the same amount of light. In some cases, new-fangled fixtures with light emitting diodes, or LEDs, have replaced existing lighting.

What this means to the average taxpayer is significant savings to County coffers through lower utility bills. The energy efficiency retrofits when complete will save the county about 535,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year. This roughly equates to a savings of about $64,000 a year.

And that’s a big deal in these troubled economic times.

Another big deal is that the entire project isn’t costing the County a dime. The money making the project possible comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.

Madera County joined with 35 other cities and counties in the region to form the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is led by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District with the assistance of the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. The Partnership administers the more than $4 million in grants and provides technical assistance to local governments.

The County is in the process of retrofitting florescent lights in its Main Jail, Main Library, Juvenile Services Administration Building, Oakhurst Library, Oakhurst Wastewater Treatment Facility and Government Center Parking Structure. The total conversion will replace 4,648 light tubes with new low-wattage/high-output florescent fixtures in the effort to reduce energy use and cost.

Beginning this week, the Government Center Parking Garage will receive new LED light fixtures to replace the center access lane florescent lights, area flood lights and light poles.

In addition, in cooperation with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the County is installing new LED street lights at its Juvenile Hall Facility parking lots and 82 street lights in the unincorporated communities of Parkswood and Parksdale.

The County maintains the importance of as little disruption to daily business operations as possible. To minimize the inconvenience to the public and staff that would surely result from closure or limited access to public access facilities, the County opted to do the installations in the evenings.