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Green Lights : Southern California Edison is among the companies that are cutting their power bills by installing fluorescent lighting.


Gary Porter is the man in Ventura County who is in charge of the Green Lights program for our local utility, Southern California Edison. No, he's not a traffic engineer. He's responsible for installing in Edison's several offices and facilities in Oxnard and elsewhere a type of fluorescent lamp and reflector that merely sips at the electric power flow, consuming only a fraction of what it used to take to light the workplace.

"Green lighting" is the moniker the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the national program to cut air pollution by reducing the need for more electric power plants. And who should know better than a power company how expensive electricity can be and what pollution is caused by a generator?

So Porter and hundreds of officials in power companies, electro-technical companies and other firms nationally have been heeding the cry of "Physician, heal thyself."

Utilities aren't the only companies, of course, that are beady-eyed about electric bills. In Southern California, Mattel, Lockheed, Arco and Western Digital are upgrading their work sites this way. So far, however, Edison is the only Ventura County business to do so.

Nationally, 600 large and small companies are installing "green lights," retrofitting more than 2 billion square feet of commercial and industrial space, according to Marie Tickoff, California coordinator for the EPA's Green Lights program. And if every U.S. company and government agency for whom such a conversion makes business sense did the same thing, Tickoff said, the difference in air quality would be the equivalent of pulling tens of millions of cars off the road. That's because a surprising 75% of the power generated in the United States is not used in homes.

In 1990, when the EPA learned there was an energy-efficient new lighting technology entering the U.S. marketplace, the agency started a cheerleading program to get companies with huge lighting bills--including the utilities themselves--to retrofit. Unlike regulatory legislation such as the state and local no-more-garbage-into-landfill laws, the "green lights" program is voluntary.

Basically, though, the program could sell itself.

The EPA provides firms with expert advice and accounting software to show bottom-line-oriented executives how the cash outlay for new lamps and fixtures can be reclaimed in a short time. One thing that struck me was that the new lights don't heat up the office or workplace. This, it turns out, is another plus: The EPA estimates the need for air-conditioning will go down 20% anywhere the new lighting is installed. And that means fewer CFC emissions burning a hole in the ozone layer.

Also, you can get "occupancy sensors"--gizmos that switch off the lights when no people are in the room. The EPA says these pay for themselves in electricity saved in just over a year.

A couple of years ago I bought some new fluorescent lighting for my house. Now it's available in "industrial strength" quantities and, if a business has a few thousand square feet to light, the new "green lights" can save $250 a year per 1,000 square feet in power bills. That corresponds to my personal experience.

The color of the illumination is not green, by the way. All kinds of tones are available. Your office won't end up looking like a police interrogating room.

Edison's Porter had an interesting reaction when I asked him about a green-light-type program just announced by another utility--EDF, the big French electricity producer.

Light bulbs at the EDF offices and generating facilities aren't the only things being upgraded. In the future, EDF's cars and trucks, the ones that do the repairs or check the electric meters, will run on electricity to save on gas and cut smog.

"In my personal opinion," Porter said, "it's right around the corner for us too."


* Ventura County residents interested in the Green Lights program can call Southern California Edison at (800) 952-5062 for a business or residential energy audit and advice on a money-saving lighting upgrade.

* Details on the program for businesses are available from EPA's California expert, Marie Tickoff, at (916) 445-5900.

* Nearby lighting contractors promoting the Green Lights program are Murphy Electric Maintenance Co. (965-0313), Lighting Industries (257-0286) and CSL Lighting (257-4155).

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