A group at Bemidji State University is shedding light on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus in a very visual way.

Over the course of a year, 1,160 light bulbs will be replaced with more energy-efficient lighting in the most heavily used areas on campus, thanks to an initiative started by BSU's Students for the Environment Club.

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The change could save the university 65,557 watts of lighting, or $14,400 per year in energy costs. More importantly, it could save 220 tons of carbon a year.

BSU students Asher Kingery, president of the Students for the Environment, and club member Hannah Hutchins, along with BSU Sustainability Coordinator Erica Bailey-Johnson, wrote and received a $20,000 competitive grant that enabled their project to become a reality.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's grant, funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund, is called Minnesota Schools Cutting Carbon, and it requires applicants to know their schools' carbon footprint and have a plan to reduce it.

The MPCA awarded 15 schools in Minnesota up to $20,000 to come up with innovative projects that demonstrate student leadership in reducing their schools' greenhouse gas emissions and integrating it in their campus and community.

Last year, BSU received $500 through a Minnesota Schools Cutting Carbon mini-grant, which entitled them to be in the running for this year's $20,000 grant.

The carbon grant, along with over $50,000 in matching grants and in-kind donations from several BSU departments, have given the group $78,900 to use in developing a project that will cut down BSU's greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

In thinking of a proposal, students Kingery and Hutchins said they thought of several ideas before turning to lighting options.

"We thought about starting big, like putting up solar panels, but we agreed the first step should be to reduce what we already have," Kingery said. "Reducing lighting was the easiest step and made the most sense."

The Students for the Environment Club's lighting project involves:

- Replacing fluorescent T12 fixtures with fluorescent T8 fixtures in Deputy Hall. This will reduce 175 tons of carbon dioxide or 191,030 kilowatts annually. It will cut annual costs by $11,461 and a return on investment of approximately two years.

- Replacing 400 watt metal halide with fluorescent T5 high bay fixtures in the BSU Gymnasium. This will reduce 14 tons of carbon dioxide or roughly 15,290 kilowatts annually. It will cut annual costs by $917 and a return on investment of roughly16 years.

- Replace high-wattage incandescent lighting with higher efficiency and LED lighting in the performance areas of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. This will reduce 31 tons of carbon dioxide or 33,680 kilowatts annually and cut $2,020 in annual costs. The return on investment will be approximately 17 years.

Ottertail Power Company provides a rebate of 40 cents per watt saved.

"We took a lot of our recommendations from the Physical Plant Electrician Supervisor (Thomas) 'Mike' Dody," said Bailey-Johnson. "He did all the energy efficiency calculations."

Ellen Jones, assistant professor of theater at BSU, helped the group as faculty liaison for the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex, also helped throughout the project.

By being a part of the grant-writing process and involving their peers on campus, Kingery and Hutchins learned important leadership skills.

"I think it's really cool," Hutchins said. "We're not just talking about it - we're doing something."

Kingery said he is proud to see the campus taking steps towards reducing its carbon footprint.

"Changing the lighting gives us the best chance at getting students to notice the changes and why they were made," Kingery said. "Thousands of students, faculty, staff, community members and visitors pass through these locations every year."

The group hopes the lighting retrofits will not only educate the campus community, but also all the visitors who attend events on campus.

As part of the grant's requirements, the club will coordinate an event during Earth Day week involving on-campus student organizations emphasizing their relationship to this project and the environment.

A final report on their project initiatives is due in May, 2011.