LED lighting rebates grow more popular

FAIRMONT — During January, Fairmont Public Utilities paid thousands of dollars in rebates to commercial and residential customers for the purchase LED lights. The number of customers taking advantage of the rebates and the amounts of the checks drew interest from the Public Utilities Commission members on Tuesday.

Paul Hoye, city finance director, said the rebates have been popular with PUC customers who are discovering the savings that, coupled with the drop in price of the lights, can be realized by switching to LEDs.

Hoye recapped the city’s own benefit in switching its street lights from high pressure sodium lamps to LEDs. In 2016, the city started buying LEDs for the street lights at a cost of $264 each, but generous rebate from the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency returned $194 per unit, reducing the final expense to $70 each.

Hoye said the electric department continues to change out the bulbs on the city’s 1,400 street lights, which cost about $10,000 each month to operate with the sodium lamps.

“We’re saving about $50,000 to $75,000 a year right now on lighting, and we’re not done yet,” he said. “We’ve got about a third of them left, but we hope to finish this year.”

Late last year, the first floor of City Hall was switched to LEDs, and Hoye is curious to see how much of a savings that will bring. The move enabled the elimination of more than half of the light fixtures on the first floor without changing the brightness of the lighting. Lights on the building’s second floor will be switched over this year.

To learn more about the rebate program, check “Utility Rebates” under “Popular Links” on the city’s web site, www.fairmont.org or call City Hall at (507) 238-9461.

In another matter, commissioners approved a change in the utility’s budget billing program that will require all those signed up for the program to have automatic payment from their financial institution. Hoye said the move would clear up issues that have been going on for several years.

“Some pay more. Some pay less. Some don’t pay at all,” he said. “I think this (automatic payments) will clean up the whole process.”

He plans to send out a letter to budget customers, notifying them of the change, and include an authorization form for automatic payment if they want to stay on the program. About 350 utility customers are enrolled in the budget billing program, with about one-third of those lacking automatic payments.

“It’s not a huge number, but this will save quite a bit of staff time,” Hoye said of the change. He estimates that fully implementing the policy will take a few months.

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