Who left the lights on? Wasting energy, wasting money - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Who left the lights on? Wasting energy, wasting money

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By Jon Evans - bio | email

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Long after most people have gone to sleep, lights dot the late night or early morning landscape. Some of them should be on, like street lights or stoplights. But we've found others where the answer is not so obvious, and taxpayers are footing the bills.

WECT news crews visited several locations during the months of January and February during the overnight hours.  At the county library in downtown Wilmington, we stopped by three times in those two months. Each time we found several lights on in different areas inside the building. We took the video to show New Hanover County Manager Bruce Shell.

"I'm aware of it, and it should not be happening," Shell told WECT's Jon Evans. "I've talked with the property manager and asked him to find out why. This case is one where the (cleaning) crew could be cutting the lights off and haven't been. He's assured me it's been taken care of."

Not far from the Library, at New Hanover High School along Market Street, our early morning visits found several types of lights beaming brightly around the campus. We spotted lights on inside and outside the school. Brogden Hall, where the Wildcats host basketball games and other school-related activities, topped them all. We found many lights on outside the building and inside, along the trophy case near the entrance. We took our video to show Bill Hance, the Assistant Superintendent who is in charge of Operations. "Obviously there are too many lights on there," was his first thought upon viewing it.

When we pointed out that those same lights seemed to be on every night that we stopped by, Hance promised to look into the matter. "That to me would indicate it would be inappropriate," he said during an interview. "It does not appear to be a security light. We'll check. It would be strange if that many lights were security lights."

Just days later, after consulting the principal of the school, Hance said the inside and outside lights are left on for security purposes.  "The lights at entrances and on porches are left on because of break-ins and recurring problems with people sleeping in those areas," he said in an email to WECT News. "We've done the same with the entrance stairwells.  The courtyard lights and those around Brogden were put in several years ago due to vandalism and also concerns about safety for night time events."

In March of 2010, WECT news discovered lights coming on inside and outside of an ABC store that was no longer open for business, along Castle Hayne Road. For this story, WECT News stopped by the system's headquarters building along 17th Street in Wilmington. We found lights left on in the main office area, along with the store next door.

New Chief Operating Officer Dan Sykes says it is done for security. He says enforcement officers are in and out of the office at all hours, and some work shifts start very early in the morning. Since  ABC stores are often targets for break-ins, he believes having lights on for security is important.

WECT's Jon Evans asked Sykes if someone driving by should consider the lights a waste of energy. "I don't think so," said Sykes. "I think this is good security. If an officer has to enter in the middle of the night, it is better to have lights on than no lights."

All three men say they are working on ways to improve their systems to better conserve energy. Shell says the county is in the middle of an energy audit, to make sure lights and switches are as efficient as possible. Sykes plans to propose a new energy conservation plan to the ABC board later this month. Hance is recommending a plan to the School Board in New Hanover County. He says other school systems have used the same plan to save up to 26% on their power bills. When your power bill is in the seven figure range, even saving ten percent could mean banking hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We can reposition those dollars which would really help our budget," said Hance.

Here is a look at what the three systems paid in energy bills for the last fiscal year. The second figure represents the amount that could be saved if each realized a ten percent savings.

Power  Bills  

NH Schools (09/10)     $4,778,371.30     $477,837

NH County (2010)       $1,705,793.54     $170,579

ABC (09/10)                $     71,098.00     $    7,109

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