The city could soon be a bit brighter and more energy efficient — that’s because San Francisco’s Department of the Environment is giving away 100,000 long-lasting LED light bulbs.
Beginning Wednesday, in what city officials describe as the largest LED bulb giveaway in history, the environment department will distribute 20,000 lights via public libraries. At any library branch, city residents need only to flash their library card to obtain a four-pack of bulbs. Each one can last up to 22 years and uses about one-sixth of the energy of a conventional light bulb.
Another 20,000 lights will be given to the San Francisco Unified School District, where, according to Department of the Environment Director Debbie Raphael, students can take a package on the condition that they complete a “homework assignment” to install them at home.
But the bulk of the bulbs — 60,000 of them — are being distributed to community organizations operating housing developments that serve low-income, formerly homeless, disabled, veteran and other disadvantaged communities in the city.
“The residents and organizations that benefit the most from LED light bulbs are the least able to afford them — which is why initiatives like this are so important,” Board of Supervisors President London Breed said in a statement. Breed will help kick off the city’s “Going LED” campaign Wednesday at a building managed by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp., which provides housing for low-income individuals and families who will receive about 3,000 lights.
The city purchased the lights using a $280,000 award from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. following a successful initiative called “Step up and Power Down.” The initiative, Raphael said, required the city to make contact with 600 San Francisco businesses over a “finite period of time” to promote more energy-efficient behaviors like remembering to turn off lights and purchasing power-conserving products.
“The big energy load in San Francisco is in the commercial sector,” Raphael said. “In this case … the challenge was to help the commercial sector, which we did. And the award is going to help residents — so, in a way, everybody benefits.”
When all 100,000 LED bulbs are installed, Raphael said, they’ll save more than $1 million each year in utility costs and 5.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity — enough to power about 3,000 homes per year.
But, she said, “It does the planet no good if you get the bulbs and put them in your closet. Go home and install them and enjoy them.”
For many TNDC residents living on tight budgets, even small amounts of savings on their energy bills can make a big difference.
“Even a little bit each month, it adds up and it makes a difference to people whose income is low,” Ruchi Shah, TNDC’s sustainability manager, said.
The longer life span of LED bulbs will also help the TNDC save on both time and labor costs, Shah said. Last year, the organization’s maintenance crews responded to 19,000 work orders across its 39 properties, “a good amount of which were lighting-related,” Shah said.
But beyond helping to save money, Shah said the LED bulbs, many of which have already been installed, have contributed to a greater sense of safety among many TNDC residents.
Even though the lights are indoors, “Coming out of an area that’s really dark, you feel unsafe. But you go into your home and you get this perception of safety, ‘at least I’m safe in my own unit,’” she said. “In the Tenderloin, safety is an issue, and these bulbs make people feel like they can see better.”
Raphael said her department was pleasantly surprised by the “ripple effect” the LED bulbs seemed to be causing for vulnerable and low-income residents.
The financial and environmental benefits alone were reason enough to move ahead with the giveaway program, but, Raphael said, “There was a man who said, ‘My eyesight isn’t very good. Now I can paint, now I can shave.’ There are these things we take for granted that can be fixed by having a high quality, long-lasting light bulb. It’s truly heartwarming.”
SF giving away 100,000 long-lasting LED bulbs, mostly to disadvantaged, by Dominic Fracassa, The San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2018.