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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Avista’s light-bulb mailing going ‘seamlessly’

Linda Bridgeman, right, packs compact fluorescent bulbs in a warehouse on the West Plains on Tuesday. Working with her are, from left, Dianna Bruhn, Marvalee Andersson and Danny Megow. (Jesse Tinsley)
Linda Bridgeman, right, packs compact fluorescent bulbs in a warehouse on the West Plains on Tuesday. Working with her are, from left, Dianna Bruhn, Marvalee Andersson and Danny Megow. (Jesse Tinsley)

In a West Plains warehouse, Danny Megow attaches labels to Priority Mail packages headed to Davenport, Clarkston and Orofino.

He’s part of the work crew at Mailstream USA, a contract company that’s preparing one of the largest package mailings in Inland Northwest history – the delivery of 300,000 kits containing compact fluorescent light bulbs to Avista Utilities customers.

Each weekday, about 5,400 packages leave the warehouse in a U.S. Postal Service truck. The kits of eight bulbs arrive on doorsteps within a day or two.

“In this job, I felt like we’ve hit a home run,” said Allan McEachern, Mailstream USA’s president. “Everything is working seamlessly.”

Avista is sending the energy-efficient bulbs to residential and small business electric customers throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Most Spokane customers already have theirs, with deliveries now targeting rural areas. When the effort wraps up in mid-November, 2.4 million CFL bulbs will have been delivered.

Spokane-based Avista is promoting the bulbs for a reason: The utility is facing state mandates to get more of its energy from renewable sources. Electricity saved through energy-efficiency measures counts toward that goal, said Sandra Hoye, program manager for the utility’s CFL project.

CFLs consume about 75 percent less electricity than incandescent light bulbs. As lighting accounts for about 15 percent of home electricity use, switching to CFLs makes a real difference, she said.

But mailing 300,000 packages of fragile light bulbs posed logistical challenges. Avista started meeting with the U.S. Postal Service and Mailstream six months ago to plan the rollout. The resulting collaboration has been so successful that other regions of the Postal Service are interested in adapting it for their own use, said Earl Eisenrich, the Postal Service’s customer service manager in Spokane.

Fewer than 50 of the bulbs have arrived in pieces, according to Avista. And a specially devised mailing plan has created a steady work flow for Mailstream that meets Avista’s delivery deadlines without overwhelming postal stations or letter carriers.

“They carved it up in a way that made sense for them,” said Mailstream’s McEachern.

Early on, Eisenrich called in a data-crunching specialist from the Postal Service to analyze the mailing list. Post offices didn’t have room to store the packages, so they needed to arrive at a rate that letter carriers could keep up with. Most carriers deliver mail to between 300 and 900 addresses each day.

“If they got 900 light bulb parcels, there would be no feasible way to get those all delivered in a single day,” Eisenrich said. “They wouldn’t even fit into their vehicles.”

After extensive analysis, the deliveries began in mid-July. About 5,000 of the CFL packages are delivered daily across the Inland Northwest.

To streamline the effort, Mailstream gets preprinted, geographically sorted mailing labels from the Postal Service. The finished packages are stacked in Postal Service containers, which are loaded directly into Postal Service trucks.

Reducing the number of times each package is handled reduced breakage, Eisenrich said. In addition, the planning lets Postal Service station managers know how many parcels to expect for the next day’s delivery.

Avista is spending $7.5 million to buy, package and mail the kits. The utility expects to save $24.3 million next year from use of the new bulbs, said Avista’s Hoye. That’s how much the utility would have spent to produce or purchase the electricity equivalent to the energy savings.

If all customers replaced eight incandescent bulbs with the CFLs, energy use would decrease by nearly 90 million kilowatt hours of electricity, according to Avista. That’s about how much electricity 7,500 households use in a year’s time.

Households should see a modest savings as well, said Debbie Simock, Avista spokeswoman. Over a typical seven-year life span of the CFL bulbs, Washington residential customers should each save $93 on their electric bills, she said. For an Idaho customer, the savings would be $104.

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