URBANA – You think you've got high power bills.
The annual cost just to light the lobby at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is $59,000, or almost $5,000 a month.
That's a lot of energy – 619.6 million watts, to be precise.
But Krannert is going green. The center has embarked on a $450,000 project to replace the incandescent lights in the lobby with energy-saving LED fixtures.
Though the new fixtures are more expensive up front, the annual savings in energy use and money should be significant, said Michael Williams, lighting director at Krannert.
The new lights are projected to use 132.2 million watts per year, at a cost of $12,500 – about a fifth of the old system. They also last much longer – 50,000 hours, compared with 2,000 for the incandescent bulbs – cutting the $27,000 annual cost of replacing the lights to about $3,800, Williams said.
And since they'll put off less heat, they should reduce cooling bills in hot weather, he said.
"It adds up to tremendous energy savings for us, which affects the environment and our budget," said Maureen Reagan, assistant director for marketing and patron services.
The project is funded in part by a zero-interest loan from the Student Sustainability Committee, using income from a $2-a-semester clean energy fee paid by UI students. The student support helped Krannert win a $225,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation to fund half the cost.
Williams and Associate Lighting Director Lisa Kidd tested many fixtures to find lights that would preserve the warmth of the lobby, with its teak parquet floors and cream-colored marble walls.
When Krannert opened in 1969, donors Herman and Ellnora Krannert envisioned the lobby as a sort of community gathering space, large enough to hold patrons from all four theaters at once. They believed in bringing people together from all backgrounds in one creative space, Reagan said.
"There's a way people feel when they walk in our lobby, and we want it to be warm and inviting and spacious," Reagan said. "Lights have a big effect on that."
Another stipulation was the contractors not alter the aesthetics of the lobby's distinctive ceiling, with its ridges and black baffles designed for the old lights, Williams said.
The new lights aren't like the compact fluorescents used in homes – the ones that cast that sickly, office-style glow.
The default setting for the LED lights is a bluish white, but the Krannert lights can be mixed – using red, blue and green LEDs inside – to get just the right shade, a "warmer white light" that you usually see in an incandescent light, Williams said. The computerized mixing feature will also allow Krannert staff to change lighting colors for different productions, he said.
The lobby is used for myriad events – receptions, noontime concerts, wine tastings, corporate nights, the annual guitar festival, and the Afterglow, Interlude and 5 o'clock Traffic Jam concerts.
In the past, the staff would tape colored gels onto the ceiling lights to cast a festive red or blue glow, Williams said.
"Now we can do that with a laptop," he said. "If we wanted to get really crazy, we could literally change every single light to a different color."
They're also tying the lights into the fire alarm system, so if an alarm is triggered, the lights will default to all-white for easier evacuation, he said. There's also talk of illuminating a path to the exits in green, a color more readily seen through smoke, though it may not work, he said.
The contractor, Coleman Electric, began work in early December and is scheduled to wrap up by the middle of this month.
"It's a cool project," said electrical engineering graduate student Suhail Barot, chairman of the Student Sustainability Committee. "This is just breaking new ground for us, the university, probably the state."
Barot said the committee had been looking for a high-profile project to fund as part of its effort to promote energy efficiency on campus. The group also provided a $75,000 zero-interest loan to the Division of Campus Recreation to add fluorescent lighting and new wiring to the Activities and Recreation Center (formerly known as IMPE).