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Fletcher: Comparison not apples to apples

May 28, 2013
Stephen Fletcher , The Alpena News

I went shopping at Home Depot this week, which is a newsworthy item because I shop so seldom. I went to Home Depot for a tutorial on LED light bulbs and one of the store staff enlightened me in a very professional and knowledgeable manner.

The LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are amazing. They use one-sixth of the power of other bulbs and some state their life expectancy is 22.8 years. Given the actuarial tables forecasted age for me, these bulbs are going to outlast me unless I pass age 92. These bulbs have more utility than I do.

I'm considering the bulbs for the hunting camp. The camp is located about 3 1/2 miles from the closest power line and is consequently powered electrically by a solar panel backed up by a generator. The storage grid is a group of golf cart batteries. It's a pretty good system but one only wants to run the generator as little as possible as it is both noisy and expensive. As a consequence, I'm thinking about cutting the usage at camp. We need the furnace and the fridge, so the next big user is the lighting.

The problem is not that there is any payback period but rather the bulbs are $20-40 each. No, that's not a misprint. Counting all of the incandescent and the few halogens at camp, there are more than 40 bulbs. This poses an economic dilemma. I can't get used to the idea that to save big I have to lay out $800-$1,600 for light bulbs that allegedly will last longer than I can reasonably expect to exist. Holy Frightening Fosdick! That's a lot of money to not run the generator for a few more hours.

"At what price does victory come?"

Additionally, the camp isn't metered, so it would be hard to measure the payback. I would have to know the number of kilowatts used presently for a year in order to compare to future usage to ascertain actual savings. Then I would have to factor in the price of propane that fires the generator and meter the gas consumption to see if the amount diminished. The problem is that the furnace and cooking equipment also use gas for fuel so I can't just look at propane invoices to see the savings. The benefit also depends on numbers of meals prepared and days needing heat.

Likewise, Alpena County commissioners can't just look at dollars saved comparing the utility bills from 2012 to future bills when determining the savings from the bonded improvements to the county's climate and lighting consumption. Since natural gas prices were at a low point in 2012, naturally there will be an apparent savings as the prices now increase back to historical levels. The question is about cubic feet of gas or kilowatt hours consumed between the two periods.

The county has a 30 year bond issue to repay, which raises another question - is there an expectation or still using the existing court buildings and fairgrounds at the end of the period. If we build new court facilities does that mean the savings could be transferred between dissimilar buildings. In other words, the county's problem at the end of the bond issue is much like mine: Are we both still there at the end of the savings stream?

I'll probably start buying LED light bulbs just a few at a time to replace the existing bulbs as they burn out. As a notoriously cheap Scot (that's probably redundant), I'll rue the investment made in these amazingly long-lived bulbs going to the benefit of others after I burn out.



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