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[whitespace] PG&E gives money to Cupertino to save energy

City to phase traditional traffic lights in favor of energy-saving LED's

Cupertino--Green lights don't only mean go these days. PG&E has granted Cupertino money to phase out the traditional traffic light and replace it with energy-saving technology. The green lights in this case mean the city will save on its energy bill, and PG&E will have more power in its grid in the midst of an on-going energy crisis.

By replacing old incandescent bulbs with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, the city can drastically reduce the amount of electricity needed to illuminate traffic signals. LEDs use roughly 85 to 90 percent of the electricity needed to power an incandescent bulb. The LEDs also last up to 10 years, according to PG&E spokesperson Stacey Harmon, so the city will also avoid the cost of constantly replacing the regular light bulbs, which burn out after about a year.

Cupertino will replace all of its green lights, including both the round balls and the arrows. The lights usually use 150 watts per hour, according to city Traffic Engineer Ray Chong, but the new LEDs will only need 15 watts of juice to keep traffic running smoothly. With the entire project encompassing 815 lights, that represents a significant conservation of energy.

The city allocated $140,000 to procure and install the green LED lamps, but some of this only covers potential cost overruns involved with hiring a contractor. The city expects the lamps and installation to actually cost around $126,000.

The money from PG&E comes from a rebate program that the utility giant began in September 2000. Under the terms of this program, PG&E offers the city a maximum refund of $175 for each lamp, as long as they go in before June 1, 2001. The city received $105,000 from the program. "[PG&E] had already exhausted all the money," Chong says. "We were lucky to get the funds reserved."

Even after the rebate, the city must cover up to $35,000 of the cost. However, with $22,000 in savings from reduced annual energy costs, the installation will pay for itself in a year and a half.

PG&E began the program after the Public Utilities Commission donated $13 million, as part of a statewide initiative program. The utility then used the money to fund such programs as the LED rebate. According to Harmon, the cities in PG&E's service area all responded very positively to the various programs, and the utility now stands to have a large energy load taken off its shoulders just before the peak summer-use hours.

The money the PUC distributed to state utilities came from money from certain customers' bills. On each statement, a customer has the option to check a box asking that a portion of their payment go towards energy-saving programs. This represents just such a program. Harmon calls the program a perfect example of how customers' money goes back to work for them.

Customers hit hard by recent PG&E rate increases might not agree, however.
Kevin Fayle

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Web extra to the February 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro.

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