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Associated Industries spends $30,000 to switch to LED

Jim DeWalt, preseident of Associated Industries, says it will take about three years to recoup the cost of converting  to LEDs.  (Colin Mulvany)
Jim DeWalt, preseident of Associated Industries, says it will take about three years to recoup the cost of converting to LEDs. (Colin Mulvany)

Company cutting energy costs in long term

When Jim DeWalt decided to spend $30,000 to convert all the interior and exterior lights at Associated Industries, he did it to save money.

DeWalt is the president of Spokane-based AI, a for-profit provider of assorted services to area businesses. Like many businesses that are customers of Associated Industries, DeWalt and his executive team felt forced by the economy to find ways to cut costs to save money in the long run.

While not cheap, the conversion moved Associated Industries from fluorescent lighting to all LED lights inside and outside its North Spokane building, which measures about 20,000 square feet.

Only after the switch did DeWalt and Associated Industries realize it was the first Spokane area business to convert entirely to energy-efficient LEDs, said Tad Gropp, president of Gropp Electric, the company that installed the 600 or so lights during in the project.

DeWalt said the conversion cost of roughly $30,000 is not small, but about half the cost should be rebated through an energy-savings program administered by Avista Utilities, DeWalt said.

Avista’s program is supported by federal energy-savings funds, allowing the Spokane-based utility to help companies making green investments, said spokeswoman Debbie Simock. She said another Spokane area firm is ready to start a similar LED conversion.

DeWalt figures Associated will save several thousand dollars a year in energy costs and should recoup the $30,000 investment with energy savings over the next three years.

In addition to using less power, LED (for light-emitting diode) bulbs last longer than traditional incandescent or fluorescent lights.

“We’ve replaced a number of lights outside for our parking lot from 400-watts to 100-watts,” DeWalt said. “That’s a savings of 75 percent.”

DeWalt said Associated Industries didn’t do the project to be a pathfinder.

“It (being the first in this area) had nothing to do with the decision. We just wanted to find a way to be as energy-efficient as we can,” he said.

The conversion didn’t disrupt Associated Industries’ 24 workers in large part because Gropp was able to remove the ballasts and old fluorescent tubes and then insert the new LED bulbs into existing wall or ceiling fixtures, said DeWalt.

Gropp, who also started a distribution company, Gentry LLC, earlier this year to market LED fixtures, said demand for LED commercial and residential lighting will grow over time.

“It’s like with gasoline. No one started showing interest in miles per gallon until gas reached $3 a gallon,” he said.

The main drawback, he added, is the high cost of purchasing LEDs. At present, the best LED lights are made in China or Taiwan.

“To get the benefits you have to spend some money in order to save money,” Gropp said.