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Success Story

Small businesses cut costs with free lighting upgrades

Energy costs are a big line item for small businesses that are the lifeblood of Oregon’s rural towns and city neighborhoods. Managing energy use is just one of many things these business owners have to juggle, usually without the time and money to do it. Energy Trust is making it easier by bringing no-cost lighting upgrades to them—sometimes right to their doorstep.

Energy Trust’s lighting upgrades for small business are straightforward. The upgrades are available to Oregon businesses with 20 employees or fewer, or those operating in an existing space that is 20,000 square feet or less. After a free walkthrough survey, an Energy Trust-provided contractor installs new, high-efficiency LED lighting at no cost to the customer.

Lighting upgrades are a quick—and in this case, free—introduction to energy-efficiency improvements. Roberto Martinez, owner of the muffler shop El Mofles de Hillsboro, found himself “overwhelmed by the price of energy consumption.” Since he upgraded to energy-efficient lighting with help from Energy Trust offer, he expects to save $460 on his energy bills every year.

In addition to greatly reduced energy costs, Martinez has seen improvements in safety and work accuracy due to the new LED lighting. “They lit up the place very nicely,” said Martinez. “My son said it used to look like a cave.”

To get the word out, Energy Trust’s local outreach managers teamed up with trusted organizations and leaders in communities where a lack of information as well as capital can be a barrier for cash-strapped businesses. These efforts are getting results.

Of the 773 small business lighting projects completed in 2023, 474 were outside the Portland area, with nearly 250 in southern Oregon where the offer has an especially dynamic champion.

Karen Chase is Energy Trust’s Southern Oregon outreach manager. A resident of Cave Junction, she has seen firsthand the challenges faced by small business owners. “Very rural communities rank among the lowest-income areas in the state and have struggled over the past two years,” she said.

“Many of the smaller businesses, the rural, the marginalized, have not been able to upgrade,” said Chase. She sees LED upgrades as an effective entry point that provides economic advantages and improves energy equity in the more remote parts of the state. “LED lighting saves energy, reduces costs, it lasts longer, and it offers really fabulous lighting.”

This collaborative outreach approach often leads to fruitful opportunities – like when a meeting between Chase and Malin city representatives resulted in an impromptu walk up and down Main Street, stopping at each business to explain the offer together.

Businesses are literally seeing the benefits of better lighting in their facilities, as well as on their energy bills. Energy cost savings from the new LEDs put dollars into the pockets of owners, many of whom would not have considered or even known about energy-efficient lighting. In 2022 and 2023, Energy Trust invested $7.4 million into no-cost lighting upgrades for small businesses. More than half of that, nearly $4 million, went to businesses in smaller communities outside of urban Portland.

While Energy Trust’s outreach is focused on the no-cost lighting offer, the organization is also using the opportunity to help customers learn about the full range of incentives and programs available to support their small businesses.

“Energy Trust’s no-cost lighting program is a great way for our local businesses to start their energy-efficiency journey,” said Gregg Hayward, business sustainability coordinator for the City of Gresham, “especially for those who wouldn’t have had access to these types of upgrades otherwise.”

After a free LED upgrade, Randy Lauer, co-owner of 3-46 GRIT CrossFit gym in Gresham, is saving roughly $1,100 a year on energy bills. “The pandemic was rough on small businesses,” Lauer said. “We were really fortunate to be approved for a no-cost lighting install, and the process was so quick and smooth. The lighting upgrades not only transformed our space but have also allowed us to invest more in other parts of our business.”