Minnesota Cities Magazine

City of Austin Shines New Light on ‘Green’ Efforts

By Janet Anderson

A couple of years ago, the City of Austin shined a whole new light on its popular Riverside Arena. The new lighting in the arena is just one of many things our City Council has done to show that environmental responsibility and efficiency are ongoing priorities.

We’ve worked hard for many years to increase energy efficiency in Austin, and in 2011 we were proud to become a Minnesota GreenStep City, a program of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Minnesota GreenStep Cities is a voluntary program that encourages local innovation while helping cities focus on potential savings and reduce energy use. When Austin joined, we created the Austin Sustainability Task Force, which brings together citizens, city staff, and city councilmembers dedicated to focusing on environmental issues and innovation.

The Riverside Arena
While we’ve done many projects to become more “green,” the very successful 2011 lighting retrofit project at Riverside Arena is a great example.

City of Austin hockey rink at Riverside Arena
Riverside Arena is pictured above during the annual “Paint the Rink Pink” breast cancer research fundraiser.

Riverside Arena first opened in 1973, and currently serves youth and school hockey programs, as well as the Austin Bruins North American Hockey League team, Riverside Figure Skating Club, open public skating, and other uses. A variety of programs and rentals also happen during non-ice months.

The City of Austin uses a unique team situation for the operation of Riverside Arena. Maintenance falls under Public Works, and all scheduling falls under the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department.

Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Director Kim Underwood took the lead in applying for and implementing an Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant of nearly $65,500 to do an energy-efficient lighting retrofit at the arena, which included a total of 159 light fixtures throughout the building.

Advantages of new lighting
Lights above the ice rink were converted to T-5 compact CFL lights, and the rest of the building changed to new T-8 CFL models. The life of both the T-8 and T-5 CFLs is approximately 25,000 hours, compared to an average of about 1,200 hours for the metal halide lamps the arena previously had. The new CFLs retain their light output better than metal halide lights, which dim considerably with age.

Another advantage of the new lighting is that they are mounted in sets of four, so if one CFL goes out, the area is still illuminated. We added to energy efficiency by installing occupancy sensors in the two main restrooms and all locker rooms for greater control over energy use. This has also been a helpful facilities management tool because it prevents lights from accidentally being left on overnight.

The new lights have also improved the environment at Riverside Arena from an aesthetic perspective. “The new fixtures give off light that is closer to natural light, which reduces eye strain,” says Underwood. “The old lights also took a long time to warm up, and we had dark areas in corners where the light wouldn’t reach. It’s interesting how many comments we get now from people about our nice lighting.”

Underwood is very pleased with the retrofit project, which successfully reduced wattage per light. She is in the process of working on documentation to show energy savings, and she says she’s confident that the energy benefit will pay off in the long run.

Looking ahead
The City of Austin looks forward to future projects to improve energy efficiency and encourage environmental innovation. The GreenStep Cities program, with its guidelines and networking opportunities, is a great help in these efforts.

The Sustainability Task Force is now concentrating on meeting the criteria to reach the next step in the GreenStep program. We see it as excellent motivation to stay focused on progress while keeping track of how much has been accomplished already.

Janet Anderson is a member of the Austin City Council and chair of the Austin Sustainability Task Force.

Read the May-June 2013 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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