Lighter and brighter | June 22, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - June 22, 2012

Lighter and brighter

Palo Alto challenges residents with first "Ugly Lighting" contest

by Junesung Lee

The first thing Nicolette Chun thought of when she read the flyer was her spot halogen lights on her kitchen counter.

"Every few months, the wiring came loose, and the little hooks holding them up just looked so terrible," she said. "I've replaced them with LEDs in nice, clean lines, and it looks much better now."

The flyer was for the City of Palo Alto Utilities' "Ugly Lighting" contest, which invited residents to send in pictures of their nightmare lighting. The winners earned rebates for EnergyStar(r)-certified LED lighting.

Chun was the runner-up who received a $100 rebate.

"The city utilities department has had different kinds of rebates for energy and water conservation for a long time now," said Joyce Kinnear, manager of City of Palo Alto Utilities marketing services. "The LED was a new one, and we held this event to call attention to it. Around 15 people sent in applications."

The department reached out to residents through a citywide mailing for this contest. Applicants were required to send in a photo of their current lighting situation, as well as write a letter explaining why it would be an improvement to upgrade. The idea was to offer incentives to discontinue the usage of inefficient incandescent or halogen lighting by Palo Alto residents.

"By offering a rebate like this, we were much more likely to pique people's excitement and interest in the matter," Kinnear said. "They are much more likely to get higher quality with LED lights, and they will save money on their electric bill by replacing their incandescent bulbs."

Roger Carpenter won a $400 rebate through the contest, and has been switching out his old canned lighting for LEDs.

"I've been wanting to replace a lot of the lighting in my house, and I've slowly been doing it," he said. "Even though the LED lumens is lower, it feels brighter. It uses much less wattage too."

Replacing outdated incandescent lights will reduce wattage and make a difference in the monthly electric bill, Kinnear said.

New regulations have banned the manufacturing of 100-watt incandescent bulbs since January 2012. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that compliance with the new regulations will save consumers nationwide about $6 billion in energy costs by 2015.

The contest was judged by four members of the Palo Alto Utilities Services staff.

"The criteria was that they were replacing incandescent bulbs, the wattage of those bulbs, how old the bulbs were and how many of them were replaced," Kinnear said.

Palo Alto utilities often sends out suggestions for additional ways citizens can cut down on their energy use, beginning with reducing time spent in the shower to conserve water.

Rebates of varying amounts are also available for the purchase of EnergyStar(r)-approved appliances, which can use up to 50 percent less water and energy than industry-standard models.

After replacing an old appliance, the city then offers $35 rebates for those who recycle their old refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers — as well as reductions in their utility bill.

Adding insulation around the home can cut costs related to heating or cooling systems as well.

Pool pumps can be replaced with more efficient models that will utilize less energy.

"People have definitely been cutting down the amount of electricity they use on a per customer basis," Kinnear said. "Despite the increase in population and business use, the aggregate use in the city has not increased."

Palo Alto Utilities set goals of reducing electricity usage by 7 percent and natural-gas usage by 5.5 percent over a 10-year period. They are currently on target to achieving both these goals, Kinnear said.

The department continues to have third-party companies evaluate and verify savings from the rebate programs. The actual savings rate found in these evaluations continues to be close to the savings rates estimated by Palo Alto utilities, she said.

The city constantly encourages residents to transition towards a more sustainable environment through dozens of these rebates and educational programs. A full list of rebates can be found at:


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Editorial Intern Junesung Lee can be emailed at


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