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Reduce, Re-use, Recycle: Borough Installs Energy-efficient LED lights at Recycling Center

Credit Sean Huntington/FNSB

The Fairbanks North Star Borough replaced all the old fluorescent tubes at the Central Recycling Facility Monday with much more-efficient LED lighting. It’s one of several energy-efficiency efforts the borough has undertaken this year that will save taxpayers nearly a million dollars in the coming years.

Reduce, re-use, recycle: The old bumper-sticker saying is meant to emphasize the importance of reducing the use of materials and when possible re-using them before taking them to be recycled. Borough Recycling Manager Sean Huntington likes to say that’s how the program should be run. And it’s one of the reasons why he’s excited about the work done Monday at the Central Recycling Facility.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Huntington said, “because the building is old, they have those long, 8-foot fluorescent tubes that are very non-energy-efficient, so the new LEDs will pay for themselves within the next two years.”

Borough Energy Management Engineer Ben Loeffler says the T-12 LED tubes won’t require new fixtures, because they’ll fit the old ones, so they’ll be re-used. And the little box-like components called ballasts that energize fluorescent tubes will be removed from the fixtures, because he says the LEDs come with their own component.

“The LED driver is built into the lamp, so we bypass the ballast in the fixture and install a lamp that looks almost identical to a fluorescent lamp,” Loeffler said. “But it’s LED and it’s significantly more efficient.”

That’s the “reduce” part of the project. The LEDs require less gadgetry to install and operate.

“The tubes go. The ballasts go. This fixture stays,” he said, “And that’s what really makes it economical – you’re not manufacturing a whole new fixture.”

Credit KUAC file photos
Fairbanks North Star Borough Energy Management Engineer Ben Loeffler, left, and Sean Huntington, the borough's recycling manager.

The LEDs last up to three times longer than fluorescents, so they’ll reduce maintenance costs. And because the new lights are more efficient, they’ll also greatly reduce electricity costs. All in all, Huntington is impressed with the technology, and he recommends it.

“Your old fluorescent tubes in your garage or within the living area of your house – LED is the way to go,” he said.

Loeffler says he was surprised at how much the price of LEDs has fallen over the past couple of years, due to demand and the resulting economies of scale.

“Two years ago,” he said, “I went in front of the Assembly and told them ‘Fluorescent LED doesn’t make economic sense. We’re going to keep running fluorescents.’ And in two years, the numbers have changed. The efficiency has gone up and the cost has gone down.”

The LED switchout at the Central Recycling Facility is one of many energy-conserving projects the borough has undertaken this year, at a cost of about $370,000. Loeffler says he expects that’ll save taxpayers more than $92,000 in energy and maintenance costs annually – and about a million dollars total over the lifetime of the energy-efficient equipment that’s installed.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.