Slick Retrofits Light Up the Riverside Ice Arena in Austin, MN

Flip on the lights at Riverside Ice Arena in Austin, Minnesota and you’ll see a huge difference from just a few seasons ago. The entire arena is now lit up with energy-efficient T-5 fluorescent lights in place of the metal halide lamps that once hung over the ice. Lights in the rest of the building were replaced as well, along with occupancy sensors in order to address energy use in the building and to keep lights from being accidentally left on overnight.

The road to energy efficiency isn’t always smooth, but that hasn’t stopped the City of Austin, Minnesota from taking measure after measure to promote environmental mindfulness and investment within its own community. Recently, Austin joined the ranks of 49 cities in the state to become a Minnesota GreenStep City, a voluntary program run by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and its partners that encourages local innovation while helping cities focus on potential savings and reducing energy use. Janet Anderson, a member of Austin’s City Council and the city’s GreenStep Coordinator, says the City Council has made it a priority to focus on environmental responsibility and efficiency. For example, in 2009 the Austin Utilities established seasonal rates to promote water conservation, in addition to offering Austin residents extensive ENERGY STAR and Water Sense appliance rebates. Additional projects include the replacement of all red and green traffic lights with long-lasting LEDs, (the yellow lights aren’t on long enough to have a sizable effect on energy use) and the installation of solar panels on the roof of the city’s Rotary Park restroom building so that it operates off the grid.

Okay, back to the Arena: In 2011, the City of Austin applied for and received an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) that allowed them to address the high energy use for the local Riverside Ice Arena. This ice arena is one of two in the city, and since it is used to host youth hockey teams, open skating events, conventions, Austin High School’s graduation and prom, and other community events, it was considered an effective way to establish energy savings that could benefit many community members.

The project underwent some drastic changes between planning and implementation. According to Austin’s Parks and Rec Director Kim Underwood, the City of Austin received a grant to replace the boiler in Riverside Ice Arena, but after speaking with several contractors it was apparent that the actual cost of the boiler surpassed initial cost estimates, which threatened to bring renovations to a complete standstill. Instead of leaving the project in limbo, the City of Austin decided to have their original contract with the State of Minnesota amended so that the energy-efficiency improvements could be made through lighting retrofits and building renovations instead. Underwood emphasized the importance of being adaptable throughout this process as this is what allowed them to move forward.

In total, 159 light fixtures were replaced in Riverside Ice Arena. These include lights in the rink, hallways, lobby, all four locker rooms and every bathroom in the building. The lights above the rink were changed from metal halide lamps to T-5 fluorescent lights, and the lights in the rest of the building replaced the older T-12s with newer T-8s. The new lights are much more energy efficient than the 1,000 watt metal halide fixtures that used to hang above the ice rink. Each new four-foot fixture has four T-5s inside it, which use .216 kilowatts an hour, versus the metal halide lights that used 1.08 kilowatts an hour. The life of both the T-8s and T-5s is approximately 25,000 hours, while the average for metal halide lamps is around 12,000 hours of use.

The new lights also retain their light output better than metal halide lights (which dim significantly with age) and since they are mounted in sets of 4, if one T-5 goes out the area is still illuminated. Don’t let the model names confuse you; the numbers 5, 8 and 12 all refer to the diameter size of a fluorescent tube. The smaller the number is, the smaller the width of the fluorescent tube. The T-5 and T-8 models are more energy efficient than the T-12, with the T-5 being the most efficient model that is currently available.

In order to supplement the new lights, occupancy sensors were installed in the two main bathrooms and in all the locker rooms to allow greater control over energy use in the building. These sensors respond to movement within a room, so once everyone leaves, the lights automatically turn off. Director Underwood said that this has been a helpful facilities management tool because it prevents lights from being accidentally left on overnight.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the lights have been successful in improving the environment within the Riverside Ice Arena. Underwood also added that the quality of the light was better. The new fixtures give off light that is closer to natural light, which reduces eye strain for the people in the building. The lights themselves have had a significant impact on the people who visit the arena. “We had a lot of comments on the lights,” said Kim Underwood as she described visitor reactions, “It’s kind of weird but people would say “nice lights!” at hockey games. The old lights took a long time to warm up and you had dark areas in the corners where the light wouldn’t reach.”

The new lights, coupled with the occupancy sensors, will reduce the time and resources that must be spent managing the lights. However, the impact of the lights isn’t apparent from looking at Riverside Ice Arena’s energy use. The City of Austin has been adding utility data to the State of Minnesota’s B3 Benchmarking system since 2005 to measure the energy use in their public buildings. If you look at the trend of electricity consumption by the Riverside Ice Arena, the energy use has gone up significantly in the past two years. Perhaps a problem of success, the increase in energy consumption does not stem from inefficiency, but rather from increased use of the facility.

As the Austin Park and Recreation Department’s annual report shows, between 2010 and 2011, there was a 25% increase in the ice hours used by various groups. In addition, the City of Austin established a Junior A Tier 2 hockey team, the Austin Bruins, in 2010 at Riverside Ice Arena. The Bruins only got in half a season in 2010, but their full 2011-2012 season was very successful. They qualified for regional playoffs, which extended their season and led to Riverside Ice Arena hosting more games. Kim Underwood also said that winter weather has had a huge impact on energy consumption in the arena. “Just last year,” she said, “our weather was unseasonably warm; we had to run things differently in the arena to keep the ice, ice.”

Director Underwood is happy that they did the project. “This project turned out great because we got the lights replaced,” she explained, “The energy benefit will pay off in the long run.”

Project Snapshot

  • Location: Austin, Minnesota
  • Project: Installing 12 four foot by four T-5 model fluorescent lights in the Riverside Ice Arena to replace metal halide bulbs. Installing occupancy sensors to help reduce energy waste.
  • Benefits: Reducing wattage per light, leading to reduced energy use by the lights overall. Eliminated the need to wait for the lights to warm up when they were turned on. Higher quality lighting that reduced eye strain.
  • EECBG Funds: $65,489



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