County Celebrates Green Garages

Towson Patch

The newest bright idea in Towson: turning off the lights.

The Baltimore County Revenue Authority is installing money-saving, high-tech lighting in its four garages as part of upgrades that could save more than $100,000 per year in energy costs.

The result is an electronic system that can turn on, turn off or dim the fluorescent lights based on available natural light and whether people are around. From a computer or iPhone, a revenue authority operator can control lights throughout the garage, on one floor, or even over one parking space. And when no one is around, the lights go dim.

But when they're on, the lights are noticeably whiter and brighter than they used to be.

"Lighting is that first line of security, of safety," said Wayne Mixdorf, parking director for the revenue authority.

The new system, the largest of its kind in the parking garage industry, was developed by Orion Energy Systems and installed by Pritchett Controls. Of the $875,000 price tag, $150,000 was covered by a U.S. Department of Energy grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and another $150,000 was paid through Baltimore Gas and Electric rebates.

State, local and congressional dignitaries attended a Thursday event announcing the new infrastructure, including County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Congressmen John Sarbanes andDutch Ruppersberger, State Del. Jon Cardin and representatives for Gov. Martin O'Malley and U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin.

Sarbanes and Ruppersberger hailed the move as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil and use federal stimulus dollars to find innovations and save money.

Groups like the revenue authority "take these federal dollars and leverage them right to a local level," Sarbanes said. "You can't get any more local than a garage in Towson."

The new lighting will lower the garages' electricity use by 60 to 75 percent, and the revenue authority expects the upgrades to pay for themselves within four years.

But it's about more than money. County officials say that the energy saved will eliminate 1,225 tons in carbon emissions per year, roughly the carbon footprint of 70 Americans, according to figures from the United Nations Statistics Division.

The upgrades are complete in the Baltimore Avenue garage, where Thursday's event was held. Upgrades are nearly complete in the Washington Avenue and Chesapeake Avenue garages. Next, crews will move on to the Tolbert Avenue garage, Mixdorf said.

As Patch reported last week, the revenue authority also recieved a U.S. Department of Energy grant to install electric car chargers in Towson. General Motors brought a Chevrolet Volt to the Thursday event to demonstrate how the chargers work. The company will begin manufacuring electric vehicle motors at its White Marsh plant in 2012.

Councilman David Marks, a hybrid car driver and self-described "Green Republican", said the garage improvements are a win on multiple levels, from the money and energy saved to making life a bit more pleasant for residents in Towson's high-rises, like the Penthouse and Tabco Towers, who have complained about the garages staying lit at night.

"Anything to minimize glare in the garages is going to be a welcome improvement in Towson," he said.

The car chargers and smart lighting join the list of recent upgrades aimed at making the garages more driver-friendly and environmentally-conscious. Even the recently-installed signs have an environmental function.

"The faster we can turn people from drivers into pedestrians, the better it is for traffic and for air quality in the Towson area," Mixdorf said.