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A Bright Idea

Forgive me for the title.  I do love a pun but when it’s particularly apt, well, I just can’t resist.

This post is about some of the work being done by the Town of Chapel Hill to cut costs during this difficult budget time.  But, as explained by Energy Management Specialist Brian Callaway, it’s cost-cutting in a way most of us won’t necessarily notice.

Callaway works in the town’s Office of Sustainability and he’s been working on various projects where cutting costs doesn’t mean simple and overt maneuvers like turning down the thermostat; rather he searches for ways of using new technologies (or old ones in new and different ways) to stretch the town’s energy budget. 

Aside from the budgetary benefit, which I’ll outline in a moment, you may have already experienced the first large scale change in our public facilities if you park in the Wallace Deck.  The lights there are always on and in May of last year, the town switched the stairwell bulbs to LED’s, which use less energy but also give off a crisp, white light.  While the LED bulbs cost more to buy, they last longer so replacement cost is down, as is the maintenance cost because they need to be replaced less often.  Callaway says the town is on track to be paid back for this investment within seven years thanks to that savings.  And, if we do notice the difference, it will be the better quality of light.  

Not all of his work is that glamorous because some of what Callaway does is review the energy bills for the town’s various facilities and optimize the available rate structures to suit the facilities’ needs.  This is more necessary now than ever before not only because of budgetary constraints but because the price of energy is rising and the town’s consumption has been increasing also.  Those are two arrows pointing in the wrong direction and if Callaway can’t change their direction, perhaps he can slow their rate or even nudge their trajectory a bit. 

Where else can we expect sustainable, energy-efficient change?  Certainly, we’ll see more switching of outdoor lighting around town facilities and inside some as well, including the Aquatics Center.  The town is also investigating the feasibility of battery-operated electric buses.  I got instantly excited at the prospect of buses practically gliding along our streets but Callaway brought me back to reality reminding me that switching the town’s bus fleet wouldn’t just be expensive in the initial equipment cost.  The town’s transit infrastructure would have to change to provide upkeep and maintenance of vastly different vehicles.  

There’s another project being studied that might have just the right kind of trickle down effect (apologies to all economists everywhere): the town is trying to find a way to support solar investment for residents.  Stay tuned for details on that.

I’m about to sound like an old fogey (sp?) with my conclusion.  What I found to be the brightest hope out of my conversation with Brian Callaway, was his own energy and enthusiasm for his work.  He is personally invested in it and passionate about it in ways that will benefit us as taxpayers and human beings.  It’s bright lights like his that offer the hope of a luminous future. 

Do you know any bright lights working on ideas for our future?  I’d like to know about them so please share below or write to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com.  Also, leave a comment with any energy-saving ideas large or small.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/a-bright-idea/