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ENVIRONMENT / Lighting : Future Is Bright for Efficient Lighting

August 20, 1992|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | Richard Kahlenberg is a writer who has been involved with environmental issues for 20 years.

When Richard Mangiarelli first went into the energy saving business 10 years ago, one of his selling points was a state and federal tax break for installing solar-powered heating equipment.

But in 1985, the subsidies were eliminated, depressing a market that from an environmental standpoint was needed more than ever. Producing electrical power not only consumes energy, it creates pollution.

The same year those programs ended, Mangiarelli, a retired marine colonel, learned of a new technology for low-energy-consumption lighting.

The process calls for replacing existing fluorescent lighting fixtures with smaller fluorescent bulbs and more efficient ballasts. The new combination consumes substantially less energy than do the already-efficient fluorescent fixtures.

This time the attraction to the customer was more dramatic--and less prone to government whims. His new company, USA Energy in Solana Beach, operates as a general contractor installing or "retrofitting" lighting equipment for businesses and institutions.

"It is hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't want to save 50% to 60% on his electric bill," said client Al Blumberg, owner of Tetrahedron Associates, a Kearny Mesa electronics manufacturer. He was able to cut his factory's electric bill by two-thirds.

San Diego Gas & Electric will not be burning oil to generate the nearly 50,000 kilowatt hours of electricity Blumberg used last year. Now he only uses 17,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to light his factory. Using federal Environmental Protection Agency formulas, that means reducing pollution by that many pounds of carbon dioxide.

This kind of eco-math was certainly on the mind of the management of the Palomar YMCA in Escondido when it had its facility retrofitted last month. YMCA spokesman John Marciano estimated a pollution reduction of almost 80,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. And, because of a SDG&E rebate plan, his lighting bill will be so low that "the pay back for the cost of the (retrofit) job is only 1 1/2 years."

From the environmental standpoint, the region profits whenever individuals and businesses cut energy consumption and bills.

Public utilities are under regulatory pressure to cut pollution, so they now encourage conservation. While customers save money and help cut smog, SDG&E does not have to build new plants and burn more fuel yet can still provide new hookups and get new customers.

This kind of electrical thrift does not have to mean suffering privation. European businesses and homes routinely operate with half the electricity consumption of American firms and households. They are miserly with electricity because fuel is four times as expensive there.

Our goal these days--especially with the smog closing in from Los Angeles and Tijuana--is prevention of pollution.

The EPA estimates that if every business and institution in the nation retrofitted its lights to use "compact fluorescent," it would have the effect equal to pulling 40 million autos off the road. Last year, the EPA launched a public relations campaign called Green Lights to get big users of electricity--factories, offices and schools--to convert. These places use 80% of the power that goes into lighting America.

That means work for Mangiarelli's company and another North County firm, Enertron in Vista. "The people who really notice the difference in the light bill (when they retrofit) are the companies who have lights on 12 to 24 hours a day," noted Kirk Ebbs, sales manager for Enertron, a manufacturer of high-tech fluorescent lighting equipment. Enertron sells in 50 states and overseas.

More than 600 firms nationwide are involved in the volunteer Green Lights program that the EPA is coordinating. The EPA provides consultations and even accounting software to show how to save money.

Companies including Mattel, Lockeed, Arco, Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, Nike, Xerox and dozens of big hospitals have signed up to completely retrofit their lighting within five years.

Locally, Scripps Dialysis Center in La Jolla has already converted. Scripps' has experienced a 60% cut in the light bill and "increased brightness and visual clarity as well as reduced eye strain," according to administrator Terry Bohr.

The light generated is normal in color, and the new technology doesn't generate as much heat as the old, which means offices and factories need less air conditioning. And that means less use of chlorofluorocarbons in the air conditioning equipment, and less damage to the ozone layer.

For North County residents interested in reducing energy use for lighting, SDG&E has a toll-free line, 1-800-239-2343. Free energy audits and supplier referrals are available.

Companies interested in enrolling in the Green Lights program can call the EPA's California representative, Marie Tickoff, at 916-445-5900.

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