Denver Lights the Way to Greener Holiday Displays
Denver's holiday display has escaped the economic Grinch that stole Christmas lights in towns and cities nationwide.
"Last year, there were a number of cities that cut out their holiday lighting because of the energy costs," said Derek Brown, who oversees the City and County Building display. "We didn't want to tolerate that notion, because it's such a tradition — not only for the public, but for the staff and everyone who works downtown."
The solution — energy-efficient LED lights — has put Denver at the creative vanguard, mixing technology with tradition in a way that will save the city nearly $180,000 each year: $147,000 in labor costs, $18,000 in maintenance costs, $12,000 in equipment costs, and $2,500 in electricity costs.
The new system — including 585 LED light fixtures and more than 2,000 feet of rope light — cost $325,000. Denver paid $275,000 and the Wal-Mart Foundation donated $50,000.
"This is probably one of the larger installations in a public space anywhere in the country right now," said Nate Webb, president of Blazen Illuminations of Loveland, which has spent about 2,000 hours programming the new lights.
But being a national leader is not without problems.
"To get it all together, especially in an older building like this, you have to deal with the challenge of getting the cabling where you want it to go," Webb said about the 5 miles of electric cable that was used.
Then there's the job of getting the system configured correctly. Each of the LED fixtures is programmed and controlled.
City crews started work in January, instead of Oct. 1 as they usually do.
"We eliminated a lot of the circuitry we don't need anymore and took out a lot of the electrical boxes," said Chun Penvari, master trades worker, pointing at the top of the building.
Under the old system, it took two or three lights to do what one column of LED light now does.
"It was really challenging," said Denver's facilities manager Suzi Latona. "So much calculating and figuring went into it. . . . We had to go through and figure out if this (old) light covers this much space, how many do we need now?"
For the past two weeks, the crew tested the lights each morning and evening, a section at a time. On Monday, they discovered a 3-foot section wasn't lit, so the workers trekked up through the hatch in the roof to bring back the light.
"The beauty of the LED panels is that we won't have to take them off, so it will really cut down the amount of personnel we need to do this work next year," Brown said.
The switch to LED, and keeping the lights on for an hour less each night, will cut energy use by 80 percent, the city said.
LED bulbs last more than six times longer than the older incandescent bulbs.
Even the halogen lights in the creche were replaced with compact fluorescent lights, so the entire holiday display is greener than holly. What particularly delights Brown, however, is the quality of the new light.
"It's the same tradition, the same lighting, but the colors will be more vibrant than anything we've done in the past," he said.
Colleen O'Connor: 303-954-1083 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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