November 26, 2008

Visitors to Ashland's Central Park will notice a new glow emitting from the Winter Wonderland of Lights display this holiday season as the Battle of the Bulbs is under way.

The Battle of the Bulbs is an educational effort to raise awareness to the energy and cost savings of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, compared to the traditional incandescent light bulbs. Partners in the project include Ashland Alliance, Winter Wonderland of Lights Planning Committee, Boyd County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and EcoMinds, an extension club focused on sustainable living and environmental issues.

"Extension's involvement in this project is with education -- teaching people the cost effectiveness of this and how it's good in terms of lowering our local consumption of electrical use. And it's good for the taxpayers because it's going to cost the city less," said Kyle Robinson, the county's extension agent for community and economic development.

There are many benefits in powering a display of this magnitude by LEDs. LEDs use 85 percent less energy than traditional bulbs, which translates into an 85 percent reduction in energy costs. Incandescent bulbs are made of glass and are easily broken during the installation and removal processes. LEDs are plastic and will not break as easily. They also have a 5-year bulb life. Many of the incandescent bulbs must be replaced at the end of the season.

"With an incandescent lamp, 90 percent of its energy consumption is for heat that goes nowhere. Only 10 percent of it is used for light," said Doug Keaton, electrical technology teacher at Russell High School, whose students are providing calculations for the project. "That's kind of hard to fathom until you put your hand around the light bulb and realize how much heat is being produced."

Area residents and holiday visitors will be able to see the energy savings firsthand as they take a train ride around the park or sip on some hot chocolate. The groups will have two identical light displays on exhibit. One will be powered by incandescent lights and the other by LEDs. Each will be hooked up to a meter that measures how many kilowatt hours each display is using.

"We have so many people that come in from outside of the area for this," said Matthew Perkins, a member of EcoMinds and the Winter Wonderland of Lights Planning Committee. "This will give those people an opportunity to see that we're doing some different and innovative things in Appalachia."

"We just want to show people little things they can do, and this is just the first step in that," said Jason Rhoton, an EcoMinds' member. "They can look at the displays and see and maybe it will inspire them to go out and buy some for their trees or home."

In addition to educating area residents and tourists about the benefits of LEDs, the groups eventually plan to switch all the light displays in Winter Wonderland of Lights to LEDs. Currently, only the newest displays are powered by LEDs. To accomplish this, the groups are asking for donations from the community. For $1 each, community members will be able to switch an incandescent light bulb to an LED.

Students at Russell and Ashland's Paul G. Blazer High School have taken the lead funding the project. Through various clubs at their schools, these students have donated enough money to completely switch the bulbs in two light displays each.

This project is the first of several environmental projects members of EcoMinds plan to work on in the tristate area. For more information on the group, upcoming events or ways to live more sustainably, visit EcoMinds' Web site at http://www.ecominds.ning.com.