Spokane Journal of Business

Sacred Heart Medical Center nets big savings with lighting upgrade

Nearly 10,000 bulbs have been replaced in project

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Sacred Heart Medical Center has completed a major phase of a lighting upgrade project at its campus just south of downtown Spokane, replacing nearly 10,000 32-watt fluorescent bulbs with 25-watt bulbs and more energy-efficient fixtures, as well as installing motion-activated occupancy sensors. 

The upgrades have reduced power consumption on the hospital campus by nearly 2.9 million kilowatt hours annually, or enough to power 200 homes for the same time period. To help pay for the project, Sacred Heart secured a $447,000 incentive from Avista Corp., of Spokane.

Sacred Heart, a 2.1 million-square-foot complex that employs more than 4,000 health care professionals, began making improvements to lighting in 1994 and since then has spent a total of $750,000 on lighting upgrades.

Philip Kercher, Sacred Heart’s facilities manager, says that given the large number of light fixtures on the hospital campus, even a small reduction in power consumption per fixture can translate into big overall cost and energy savings.

The project is one of many sustainability initiatives identified by the “BTU Bombers,” a think tank comprised of representatives from Sacred Heart and Avista. Think tank members meet quarterly to discuss energy management opportunities and potentially viable sustainability projects for the future, aiming for a 3 percent reduction in energy consumption every year, Kercher says.

“By bombing BTUs (British thermal units) out of the building, we’re lowering our energy cost and increasing sustainability,” Kercher says.

Kercher has worked at Sacred Heart Medical Center for nearly 21 years and has served on the facilities maintenance staff at Providence Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville for 11 years prior to that. He says he had experience working with Avista on sustainability issues back then as well.

Avista gives out rebates and incentives to its customers to help hold down future energy costs, says Ed Arnhold, Avista account representative for Sacred Heart.

Arnhold says that these upgrades are a win-win; Avista pays less in energy production costs, and Sacred Heart pays a smaller energy bill.

Kercher says, “I think it’s much broader than cost, although that would certainly lead the list of why we do it … We have a commitment in our core values to stewardship. We’re entrusted with these assets, so we look for opportunities to use them as efficiently as possible in a way that’s least harmful to our environment. It fits in with our core values at Providence.” 

He estimates that the lighting upgrades will pay for themselves through reduced energy costs in just over three years.

Arnhold says most energy-efficiency improvement projects pay for themselves through cost savings in one to three years, although the payback period depends on the type of project. 

He says that commercial and industrial clients, including small businesses, work directly with account representatives such as him. Sometimes, Avista sees opportunities for potential energy savings and brings them to the consumer, but in some cases it’s the other way around. 

“A lot of industrial and commercial customers have an interest in contemplating, ‘How can I best use my energy dollar?’” Arnhold says. “We want to be able to help them with opportunities they might see.” 

Standard projects, such as updating some types of lighting fixtures, improving heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems, or installing energy-efficient windows qualify for standardized rebates. For larger or nonstandard projects, such as the campus lighting upgrades at Sacred Heart, Avista does what it calls a site-specific analysis, comparing the current energy used versus the potential energy savings of an upgrade. 

If the project meets certain savings parameters, it qualifies for incentives, Arnhold says. The dollar amount of the incentive is tied to the potential amount of energy saved through an upgrade. 

Not every sustainability measure involves upgrades, however. By programming the campus heating system to automatically “set back” and reduce heat output for unused areas of the hospital during the night, Sacred Heart has saved $25,000 annually. Another $15,000 was saved by turning off an industrial cooling fan in the radiology department at night.

Factoring in expansion projects on the hospital campus, the team doesn’t always achieve an overall net reduction in energy usage, Kercher says.

“We may be adding and remodeling a certain area today, thus adding to (energy consumption), and then we reduce it in another way,” Kercher says. “When you step back and look at it, if you did nothing to conserve energy, then we would continue to consume and consume and consume. We wouldn’t be acting very responsibly with our limited resource of energy.”

However, in large construction projects and remodels, such as the addition of a west wing to the facility in 2004, the sustainability think tank worked with the design team to incorporate sustainability initiatives into the new facility, he says.

“Any time you have construction or a remodel, you have an opportunity to plan for sustainability in a cost-effective way,” Kercher says.

Sacred Heart installed high-efficiency chillers, digital heating controls, and variable frequency drives in the new wing’s air conditioning system. Altogether, these smaller projects qualified Sacred Heart for an additional $166,000 in incentives from Avista.

The facilities team also is in the process of making similar upgrades to air conditioning systems in other areas of the campus, Kercher says. Sacred Heart also installed economizers in the boiler stacks of the new wing, which recycle and divert heat that otherwise would be wasted. 

Facilities management currently is engaged in the next phase of lighting upgrades, replacing incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) with light-emitting diode (LED) illumination, which requires no warm-up, produces a higher quality of light, and can last for well over 15 years, Kercher says.

The facilities maintenance team also installed low-flush toilets and hands-free faucet sensors in the patient rooms at Sacred Heart to reduce the amount of water wasted annually, although those types of upgrades usually don’t qualify for utilities incentives here, Kercher says.

He says he worked with the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance several years ago to develop the current strategic energy management plan in place at Sacred Heart and at four other Providence hospitals in Western Washington.

  • Lucas Thayer

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