ImageMarian Brown and Joanna Cummings of the Sustainable Tompkins Operations Team use teamwork to wrap LED holiday lights around fresh garlands of pine boughs to decorate the lamp posts on the Ithaca Commons.

ImageGary Ferguson of the IDP and Barbara Blanchard of MEGA stand by one of the lamp posts decorated by ST volunteers with LED holiday lights.Volunteers from Sustainable Tompkins help City of Ithaca save money and reduce carbon emisisons with new LED holiday lights!
ITHACA — This year’s downtown holiday lights are going green, thanks to a grant to help the city purchase energy-efficient light-emitting diode lights for its holiday display.
Working alongside the Energy Smart Communities Program of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that helps municipalities purchase electricity and natural gas at lower rates than they could get individually, offered grants to eight Upstate cities to purchase LED holiday lights.
LED lights are constructed from solid-state chips that convert electricity into light without using a filament or glass bulb. They can burn for up to 100,000 hours, enough to last through more than 11 holiday seasons. They produce almost no heat, rarely burn out, will not overload household circuits and come in a variety of lengths, sizes, colors and styles.

Gay Nicholson, the regional coordinator for the Southern Tier Energy Smart Communities Program of Tompkins County Cooperative Extension, suggested the grant program to MEGA both because of the long-term savings from switching to the LED lights, and because the project will give residents a chance to view the new type of light strings so they can decide if they’d like them for their own homes and businesses.  “LED light strings are more expensive than the old-fashioned incandescent strings that we are used to” said Nicholson, “but they quickly pay for themselves in energy savings and they are a lot safer to use because they don’t heat up.”

Nicholson worked with Gary Ferguson of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership (IDP) to identify which lights to change with the grant funds.  All 50 of the lamp posts on the Commons and Aurora Street were decorated with LED mini-lights and pine boughs by IDP staff and a dozen volunteers from Sustainable Tompkins.  Nicholson estimates that the 50 light strings will cost less than $60 to keep lit from early November to late January, compared to over $400 for the old mini-incandescent lights used in the past.   The LED strings draw less than 5 watts each compared to 50 watts for a conventional 25-foot string.

Even more savings for the City will result from an additional grant from MEGA to replace the larger C7 light strings that outline all four of the pavilions on the Commons.  “The pavilion lights are on all year round, so the savings will add up quickly for us” said Jim Crandall, head electrician for the City of Ithaca.  Nicholson calculated that the old incandescent pavilion lights probably cost the City over $3,200 a year because they were on 24 hours a day.

The IDP recruited local apprentices in an electrical training program of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 241 (IBEW) to install the new C7 LED light strings on the pavilions, along with photosensors to turn them on and off.  Electrical costs should now drop to about $26 a year for the four pavilions because of the extreme efficiency of these commercial-grade LED lights.  MEGA’s $500 grant for the pavilion lights will be recovered in energy savings in just the first two months of the decade or more that the lights should last.

Just by changing the lights in four pavilions, the City of Ithaca will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by over 14 tons – the equivalent of taking nearly three cars off the road.  The City will also save on maintenance costs for replacing burnt out bulbs because of the exceptionally long lifetimes of the LED bulbs.

“We’re delighted to have this additional opportunity to help our customers save money on their utility bills,” said Barbara Blanchard, MEGA’s executive director.  “We want to help spread the word about the importance of finding ways to reduce our energy consumption, and we are working with NYSERDA’s Energy $mart Communities program to bring LED holiday lights to six counties in the upstate region.  Maybe next year we can do even more.”

For a list of statewide retailers that sell energy efficient lighting products, visit or call toll-free 1-877-NY-SMART. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) uses innovation and technology to solve some of New York’s most difficult energy and environmental problems in ways that improve the State’s economy.

“This simple change will create big savings for Ithaca,” said Paul D. Tonko, president and CEO of NYSERDA. “LED lights use substantially less energy and are safer than traditional lighting because they burn cooler. These long-lasting holiday lights will help protect the environment and serve the community for many years to come.”