Caroline Project Distributes LEDs

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Tompkins Weekly 9-11-19

By Emily Adams

On Saturday, Oct. 5, volunteers with the Brighten Up Caroline project will begin distributing more than 10,000 LED light bulbs to Caroline residents. Their goal? To help Caroline residents use roughly one million fewer kilowatts of electricity and save roughly $125,000 per year, starting immediately!

How is this possible? Every 9W LED light bulb that replaces an old-fashioned 60W incandescent bulb will save 765 to 1,224 kilowatts of energy over the 13-to-22-year lifetime of that new bulb. At today’s electricity rates, that is more than $100 in savings per bulb. If a resident replaces 12 incandescent bulbs that are lit for three or more hours each day, that household will save more than $80 per year. And if volunteers can reach all 1,550 households in Caroline, that adds up to big savings, for residents and the planet as well.

Brighten Up Caroline members Steve Nicholson, Mary Weiss, Dave Ritchie, Erica Herman, Natalya Cowilich, Mark Witmer, Lucy Gagliardo, Mary Alyce Kobler, Becky Dewitt, Emily Adams and Ed Wurtz. Photo provided.

The Brighten Up Caroline project is being funded in part by a Clean Energy Community grant from New York State Energy and Research Development Agency (NYSERDA). This grant will also allow the Town of Caroline to replace all of its street lamps with LED bulbs. Savings from the street lamp replacement will be ear-marked for a revolving Green Loan fund. Residents will be able to apply for interest-free loans to make energy efficiency improvements on their homes.  

My name is Emily Adams. I am a Brooktondale native and the coordinator of the residential side of Brighten Up Caroline. As a certified Ithaca-area tree-hugger, I love the environmental aspect of Brighten Up.

As an activist and organizer, I love the idea of being part of a project that other communities can easily duplicate. But perhaps most importantly, as someone who loves Caroline and appreciates the diverse backgrounds of its residents, I love how this project is involving a wide range of people.

We are sewing bags from donated fabric to use for bulb distribution – and the sewing bees are bringing people together, young and old, long-time residents and newcomers.

We are tabling at local events like the Brooktondale Apple Festival and at popular family locations. We are reaching out to local churches and volunteer fire companies to invite them to work with us. Reducing energy usage and saving the planet isn’t the whole story – everyone likes to be able to light their homes, and no one likes to waste money.

The Town of Caroline implemented a similar program 10 years ago called “Lighten Up Caroline.” That program gave every resident one compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). CFLs give significant savings over incandescent bulbs as well, but we expect that LEDs will prove to be even more popular.

LEDs provide better quality light than CFLs, LEDs start at full strength rather than requiring time to warm up, LEDs are available for dimmable light fixtures, and LEDs do not contain toxic materials. In addition, the price of LEDs is falling rapidly, and consumers can find LED equivalents for nearly every shape and size of light bulb these days, in their local hardware stores or online.

Brighten Up Caroline is not only about LED light bulbs, though that is certainly the starting point. Each hand-sewn bag will contain literature explaining other ways that residents can make their homes more efficient and save money.

An appointment with an Energy Navigator from Get Your GreenBack Tompkins is a great place to start. Energy Navigators give unbiased advice to both homeowners and renters about the options available to them, including subsidies and rebates.

Our Brighten Up volunteers and local Energy Navigators will encourage people to get an Energy Audit – a $250 value, free to anyone earning under $178,000 per year. Currently, there are programs to help people weatherize their homes, switch to solar power (on site or through a solar farm), and install more energy-efficient heating systems.

In fact, we are partnering with another local organization, HeatSmart Tompkins, to spread the word about heat pumps.

In my experience, sorting through options and filling out the paperwork are often more daunting than the actual work, and that is why I believe that projects like Brighten Up Caroline and HeatSmart Tompkins, and people like Energy Navigators, are so valuable.

Brighten Up Caroline is actively seeking additional volunteers to sew bags or distribute light bulbs. (Oct. 5, 6, 26 and 27 will be the major door-to-door distribution days this fall.) In addition, I also encourage residents in other towns to contact me if they would like to imitate the Brighten Up campaign in their own communities.

Local high school or college students who are interested in studying the program or doing an internship should also reach out. Community projects are a great place to meet like-minded people and build a sense of purpose and accomplishment. This project is meant to be studied and shared and expanded!

Contact Brighten Up Caroline via their website,, or connect with coordinator Emily Adams during the HeatSmart Tompkins presentation at the Brooktondale Fire House on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 10 a.m. to noon.

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