Wis. city gets green light for energy savings

A century ago, Waukesha, Wis., was a thriving spa town.

'Our claim to fame was our springs,' said Mayor Larry Nelson. 'A guy who drank the water was miraculously healed.' People came from all over to drink the water and take healing mud baths.

Now, a century later, the people of Waukesha are the ones healing the Earth by taking the lead on some energy conservation projects.

The Midwest city has put energy efficiency projects in all its city buildings. 'We'll save taxpayers at least about $2 million,' Nelson said.

One of the first places the city looked to conserve energy was the public library.
The city libraries used older, T12 magnetic fluorescent lights. The lights were on all the time, regardless of how much daylight there was, said Jeff Furness, project development engineer at Johnson Controls, which did an energy audit of the city. The old lighting also generated considerable heat, resulting in higher air conditioning bills.

Waukesha installed new fluorescent light fixtures equipped with solar-powered ballasts in two of the city's libraries.

About 40 percent to 50 percent of the total electric bill in the average government building is spent on lighting, said Kip Hirschbach, chief executive officer at Axis Technologies, which developed the energy-saving electronic dimming ballasts. 'Most people are surprised by that.'

The ballasts use a technology called daylight harvesting. Each ballast has an integrated photo sensor that reduces electric light in direct response to increases in natural light.

The photo cells measure the sunlight as it comes streaming through the large library windows, Hirschbach said. 'It simply dims the fixture when there's more light than what you would want.'

Waukesha's environmental awareness is spreading beyond government. The city is getting its first Super Wal-Mart, and the new building will be equipped with 100 skylights, Nelson said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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