Co-ops help blaze trails for efficient lighting technology.

Odawa Casino, a member of Great Lakes Energy Cooperative, plans to convert over 400 slot machines from fluorescent bulbs to LEDs.

Spurred by tighter energy efficiency standards, lighting technology is leaping forward, with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) leading the charge. And despite a bit of price shock on some lighting products, electric co-op members—especially large commercial and industrials—are working with their nonprofit co-ops to see how lighting options can curb rising costs.

Shifting Standards
Emerging options like LEDs promise to help consumers adapt to changing federal efficiency standards for lightbulbs. New rules that took effect this year mandate that those using between 40 and 100 watts must use at least 28 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. This will save Americans about $6 billion to $10 billion in lighting costs annually. Lightbulbs must become 70 percent more efficient by 2020.

In addition, 100-watt incandescents will disappear from stores this year, 75-watt versions will be gone as of Jan. 1, 2013, and 40- and 60-watt versions will vanish Jan. 1, 2014.

‘Solid’ Lighting
So, how do LEDs deliver more energy-efficient light? Incandescents create light using a delicate wire inside a glass bulb. Most convert only 10 percent of the energy they consume into light; the remaining 90 percent produces heat.

In contrast, LEDs are at the forefront by using small electronic chips (diodes) that each hold two conductive materials together. As electricity passes through a diode, energy is released in the form of cooler light.

By 2030, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates these technologies could reduce the amount of electricity used for lighting by one-half, saving up to $30 billion a year.

Helping Co-op Members Save
In Michigan, electric co-ops are helping their members save money and energy with rebates and information through their Energy Optimization (EO) programs. Help is available in several categories, with lighting being one of the most popular for homes and businesses.

For example, Brad Essenmacher, member services and marketing manager for Thumb Electric Co-op (Ubly), says most factories, small businesses and farms in their area are switching from HID (high intensity discharge) bulbs to more efficient T8 or T5 fluorescents. “This allows them to exchange fixtures that use 400 watts for ones that use as little as 150 watts and get the same amount of light,” Essenmacher explains.

Joel Kiehl, a farm owner and Thumb Electric member from Bad Axe, built a workshop this spring using energy efficient geothermal heating/cooling and the T8 fluorescent bulbs.

“We were going to use halide bulbs, but the T8s give way better light,” Kiehl says. “They’re bright and light right up, whereas the metal halides took 20 minutes.” He also got a bulb rebate for over $1,150 through Thumb’s EO program, and figures he now saves about one-half on annual lighting costs.

Another co-op, Great Lakes Energy (Boyne City), is also helping members—Arbre Farms and Odawa Casino—save on energy costs. “Both members have already replaced and retrofitted older, less-efficient lighting with new technology, including more efficient lighting and control systems to further increase energy savings,” says Scott Blecke, GLE key accounts manager.

Arbre Farms (Walkerville) realized savings by changing high-bay lights (typical ceiling height of 25 feet+) in their cold storage freezer to an LED system on motion sensors, Blecke explains. “LED lighting will not emit the heat that the old high-bay lighting system did, thereby reducing the energy that the chillers use.”

The Odawa Casino in Petoskey, which Blecke says is an energy-saving leader among the co-op’s commercial members, has an estimated reduction of over 2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) annually since 2008. “This amounts to a reduction in our energy use of about 16 to 17 percent,” says Dave Heinz, Odawa’s lead electrician.

The Casino’s efficiencies have come mostly through an employee energy reduction committee that includes kitchen, maintenance, HVAC team and other department staff. “Forming the committee was actually our first step when we started working on being more energy efficient, and Great Lakes Energy began offering rebates through its Energy Optimization plan,” Heinz says. And, they’ve produced good ideas, such as posting signs that encourage everyone to use the stairs. This has cut the number of elevator rides (costs about 2 cents per ride) from 50,000 to 20,000 monthly.

In the Casino’s massive kitchen, the chef doesn’t turn ovens or other equipment on until it’s needed. “We have reduced kitchen energy costs by $14,000 to $17,000 per year,” Heinz says, and saved $2,600 annually just by turning off lights, computers and other equipment nightly. “We have 600 employees, and when you get them involved, it helps.”

As a Native American business, concern for the environment is huge, Heinz adds, noting that the Casino has reduced its carbon footprint in the whole building. They also hosted a free energy fair with Great Lakes Energy that drew nearly 700 people.

Future actions include their first LED project, which means changing over 10,000 ambiance lights from 5-watt incandescents to ½-watt LEDs. The estimated annual savings is $38,600, Heinz says, and they have EO approval for a $26,000 rebate. They already have rebates this year for Energy Star® TVs, LED Christmas lights, and are considering LEDS for the parking garage, but Heinz says they’re just not there yet in terms of the brightness needed.

Since starting their efforts, the Casino has earned over $60,000 in energy rebates, he adds. “We’re only a five-year-old building, so those energy savings have been huge for us. If you can do that with a new building, just think what you can do with an old one!”

For details about your electric co-op’s EO programs for a home or business, call 877-296-4319 or visit