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Central Oregon museum puts energy efficiency on display

Lighting upgrade saves energy and reduces overhead costs

BEND, Ore. — December 23, 2014 — An investment in energy-efficient lighting at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Ore. has produced multiple rewards for the 32-year-old visitor destination: the museum is saving energy and controlling costs while fulfilling its mission of natural resource stewardship.

The museum showcases the natural and cultural resources found in Oregon’s high desert region. Located on a 135-acre campus adjacent to the Deschutes National Forest, the museum is home to 29,000 artifacts and hosts more than 160,000 visitors each year.

The museum’s facilities manager prompted Executive Director Dana Whitelaw to investigate an upgrade in lighting technology for the museum’s 110,000-square-foot main building. As a nonprofit organization, the opportunity to save on operating costs while reducing energy consumption was too important to pass up. But as a museum professional, Whitelaw knew she needed to consider the aesthetic impact of lighting upgrades.

Lighting is topic of debate in the museum world. While less energy-efficient, incandescent bulbs have been a long-time favorite of exhibit designers and curators who are particular about how light affects the presentation of art and artifacts. “We are required to follow strict lighting guidelines and lighting levels to preserve and protect delicate artifacts,” she said.

The High Desert Museum worked with Energy Trust of Oregon to learn more about the latest in energy-efficient lighting and to understand how to implement an upgrade in phases. The facilities team selected LED technology for its impressive energy savings, cooler temperature, low-maintenance and repair needs, light quality and low-maintenance and repair needs. Over time, the museum swapped out incandescent bulbs with 368 LED lamps.

“The savings we could achieve by upgrading our lighting was significant,” said Whitelaw. “Plus, our visitors began to ask questions about the type of lighting technology we were using. Since we were founded to promote stewardship of natural resources, we felt we had an obligation to set a standard for best museum practices and follow our mission.”

Maintaining a steady gallery temperature is important in a museum, so the cooler-burning LEDs are better for heat-sensitive artifacts. The museum’s former lights gave off more heat, forcing its HVAC system to use additional energy to balance indoor heating and cooling.

“It is amazing that a simple lighting upgrade has produced a stable environment for our exhibits and a comfortable experience for our visitors,” Whitelaw said. “Now when we have questions about our lighting, we’re pleased to deliver the message that we switched to LEDs and worked with Energy Trust to make it an affordable project for the museum.”

Energy Trust provided cash incentives of $13,011 toward the cost of the energy-saving improvements, which are expected to save more than 89,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The success of the lighting project inspired the museum to upgrade the software that runs its HVAC system. With support and additional cash incentives from Energy Trust, the museum will save more than half of the project cost for upgrading its HVAC system software.

“We operate on a lean budget and keep a close eye on our revenue and expenses,” she continued. “This project has been a gift. Not only did we save on the hard costs thanks to the cash incentives, but the continuing energy savings will be substantial and have a real impact on our ability to invest those dollars back into the museum and our mission.”

Energy Trust of Oregon is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping utility customers benefit from saving energy and generating renewable power. Our services, cash incentives and energy solutions have helped participating customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas save $1.7 billion on energy bills. Our work helps keep energy costs as low as possible, creates jobs and builds a sustainable energy future. Learn more at or call 1-866-368-7878.

Category: Commercial/Not-for-profit