Corporate donation lets Interior showcase LEDs on National Mall

As controversial light efficiency standards go into effect this month, the Interior Department is turning on new light-emitting diodes on the National Mall thanks to companies that want to showcase their effectiveness.

Light bulb manufacturer Osram Sylvania donated 174 LEDs -- worth more than $100,000 -- to illuminate the Mall from 3rd Street to 15th Street. Interior and the Department of Energy estimate that the switch from high-intensity discharge and compact fluorescent lighting will cut the lights' energy usage as much as 65 percent.

"Achieving an economy built on American energy will require an all-of-the-above approach, one that includes safely and responsibly developing our domestic energy resources -- and making the most of what we have available through efficiencies," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. "There is no more fitting place to build a model of energy efficiency than right here in America's front yard, the National Mall, with the installation of these LED lights."

It is just the latest example of government entities switching over to energy-efficient lighting -- one of the easiest changes to make as agencies strive to cut their energy use as part of President Obama's sustainability initiative. The Architect of the Capitol, for example, has partnered with private companies to replace tens of thousands of light bulbs in congressional buildings, among other things.

The upfront costs of replacing light bulbs all at once can be cost-prohibitive in a tight fiscal environment, leading many agencies to contract with private companies that pay the upfront costs in return for realized savings. But in this case, Osram Sylvania and other companies paid for the entire National Mall installation, donating about $250,000 of in-kind donations.


Osram Sylvania spokeswoman Colleen Applebaugh said the LED replacements would have paid for themselves in less than three years, thanks to less energy usage and longer lasting lives.

But by donating the LEDs, the company has ensured that visitors would see how far technology has come in recent years. Osram Sylvania last partnered with Interior 10 years ago to install LEDs at the Jefferson Monument, where they now illuminate long-shadowed text in the dome.

"It's a great way for us to showcase a really good, cutting-edge led technology that's sweeping the country for street lighting," Applebaugh said.

The company has donated retrofit kits that allowed the LEDs to be installed in the Mall's historic bronze street lamps. Pepco overhead line crews installed the bulbs for free. The National Park Service won't have to replace them until they reach 50,000 hours -- or, if on for 12 hours every day, more than 11 years. The old bulbs required replacing every few years -- and probably did not die all at once, meaning they required staggered replacement.

The switch comes as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 goes into effect, requiring traditional incandescents to use about 28 percent less electricity. Manufacturers had to bring 100-watt bulbs into compliance as of Jan. 1, and 75-watt, 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs will have to meet the standards over the next couple of years.

Tea party conservatives have railed against the standards, which they contend limit consumers' choices. House Republicans were able to slip in a rider in last year's omnibus that prohibits the Energy Department from enforcing the standards, but the provision did not stop the standards from going into effect.

Nick Loris, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has criticized the standards as being an example of government overreach. But he made a distinction between efforts by agencies to save money in the long term -- such as the National Mall project -- and laws that force consumers to buy certain products.

"Generally, if it's going to save the taxpayers money, it's a good thing," he said. "I think energy efficiency and conserving energy and saving money are inherently good things."

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