Lighting rebates are back in the spotlight these days, as electric utilities tweak their existing programs to maximize energy saving for residential, business and institutional customers with a mix of standard and custom rebates. Some of these programs are now blending in newer lighting technologies like LEDs and digital lighting control systems.

Ameren Missouri, a subsidiary of Ameren Corp., recently filed a three-year energy plan with the Missouri Public Service Commission (MPSC) that offers a portfolio of energy-efficiency programs that it says will make it the largest such plan in the state of Missouri. The expenditures for the new programs will be approximately twice the size of the utility company's previous energy-efficiency programs and include a broad array of lighting rebates. The programs include energy-efficiency investments of approximately $145 million over three years beginning early Jan. 2013. These investments are expected to result in approximately $500 million in total customer benefits over the next 20 years. Annual energy savings are expected to be nearly 800 million kilowatt-hours — equal to the annual energy consumption of more than 60,000 average Missouri homes.

Ameren Missouri's current Business Energy Efficiency Incentive Program is effective Jan. 3-May 31 and provides incentives for the purchase and installation of energy-efficient equipment such as compact fluorescent lamps, LED exit signs, occupancy sensors and T8 lamps. The program has a limited energy-savings goal and once the goal has been met, the program will stop taking applications.

Steve Barker, vice president of sales, Villa Lighting Supply Inc., St. Louis, said in a press release about the new program that his company has had success working with Ameren's previous energy programs. “Through the program we were able to work with many customers to install hundreds of thousands of dollars of lighting upgrades, many of which enabled customers to reduce their lighting-related energy consumption by as much as 40 percent,” he said.

Schaeffer Marketing Group, a St. Louis-based independent manufacturers' rep, has also had success guiding customers through Ameren's rebate process. Since it's a trade ally for Ameren, it often gets referrals from the utility for some lighting retrofit projects. Mike Schaeffer, company president, said Schaeffer Marketing Group trains distributors on how to help electrical contractors and other end users complete Ameren's rebate applications and that training has multiplied his company's efforts in helping end users save energy.

Lighting Supply Co., a commercial lighting specialist based in Ferndale, Mich., also helps its customers qualify for lighting rebates. The distributor said in a press release that it has successfully positioned itself as southeastern Michigan's “number one trade-ally” when it comes to cash rebate incentives paid to customers for qualifying lighting upgrades under DTE Energy's “Your Energy Savings Program.” Since 2009, Lighting Supply has assisted customers in obtaining more than $643,000 in DTE Energy rebates.

As the top originator of paid rebate applications with DTE Energy in 2011, Lighting Supply Co. surpassed all other lighting suppliers by nearly 100 paid claims. “Over the last three years, our customers have saved approximately 8.8 million kilowatt-hours annually, said Matt McIntosh, Lighting Supply sales manager, in that release. “That's an estimated total energy savings of $971,000 based on 11 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“There are many economic and practical reasons for customers to make a lighting upgrade. We've placed a strong focus on training our expert staff in order to position Lighting Supply as the leader in energy-saving lighting. We assist customers from start to finish, making the process easier. This includes performing free lighting audits, providing lighting recommendations with return-on-investment analysis, and assisting with the rebate application process.”

Two of Lighting Supply's customers recently received sizeable rebate checks. Livonia Public Schools and Hines Property Management qualified for cash rebates of approximately $15,000 and $28,000 respectively. Livonia Public Schools updated 20 buildings throughout the district, resulting in an estimated annual energy savings of $30,000. Hines retrofitted 1,400 bulbs in the Compuware headquarters building in Detroit, and the building owner will see savings of nearly $17,000 per year.

Eric Miller, Lighting Supply's marketing manager, told Electrical Wholesaling in an email that Lighting Supply has also had success using Philips Endura Series LED lamps. “The Hines project was a good example of the MR16 LED replacing a halogen MR16 and the type of energy savings and payback that can be accomplished. We are completing projects with LED PAR 20, PAR 30 and PAR38 as well. This has been a great retail application for us.”

He added that in addition to assisting customers with utility-rebate programs, the company has helped them get more than $100,000 in EPACT (Energy Policy Act of 2005) tax deductions. Miller says fluorescent retrofits have accounted for most of the company's lighting upgrades, in large part because metropolitan Detroit still has many older buildings with T12 lighting.

“We have had a great deal of success going from T12 to standard 32W T8 and now using the Philips 25W XEW T8 lamp,” he said. “The second largest portion of our success comes from removing metal-halide fixtures and replacing them with T8 and T5 fluorescent high-bays. We have partnered with several contractors to help us offer a complete turnkey solution. In many cases, we are reducing kilowatt-hours by 50% and getting paybacks under one year. The DTE Energy rebates offered for this conversion are very high.” Miller said for converting a 400W metal-halide fixture to a six-lamp T8 fixture customers get a rebate from DTE Energy of $70 per fixture.

Over the years, California's utilities have offered some of the more innovative utility-rebate programs. For instance, while some utilities have thus far been hesitant to offer rebates for LEDs in many applications outside of exit signs, Southern California Edison offers a full slate of rebates for LEDs deep within its 90-page “Solutions Directory.” This publication introduces businesses and homeowners to a dizzying array of straight rebates for installing qualifying electrical equipment; financial incentives based on how many kWh a lighting product or system saves; and various custom rebates and other solutions. Included are LEDs for refrigerated cases; high-efficiency exit signs; channel letter signage; pendants, downlights and other recessed fixtures; and LEDs installed in exterior lighting applications such as bollards, pool lighting and wall-wash luminaires.

Many of SCE's rebates for LED retrofits are five cents per kilowatt hour saved, but they also offer straight rebates for LED retrofits under its Express Solutions program, which includes $50 per refrigerated case door and retrofitting incandescent and compact fluorescent exit signs with LEDs ($27 and $15 per fixture, respectively). In northern California, Pacific Gas & Electric's rebates of $30 per fixture are based on a one-for-one replacement of incandescent or halogen lamps of 40W or greater with EnergyStar LED surface, pendant and recessed downlight fixtures that consume less than 15W.

Plenty of other electric utilities have sizeable rebate programs. In the densely populated New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, electric utilities and state governments have been trying to decrease electrical demand for many years, and this region continues to have some of the largest rebate programs available through electric utilities and state-sponsored programs. For instance, New Jersey SmartStart Buildings (www.njcleanenergy.com/commercial-industrial/programs) is a program sponsored by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in partnership with several electric utilities in the New Jersey/New York region. According to information at www.dsireusa.org, this program has 2012 funding for $38.8 million for energy retrofits and $6.3 million for the installation of energy-efficient equipment (not limited to lighting or electrical equipment) in new construction projects. The equipment eligible for these rebates includes lamps and lighting fixtures, lighting controls/sensors, motors, energy management systems and building controls, motors, variable-frequency drives, LED lighting and nonelectrical equipment such as water heaters, chillers, boilers, heat pumps, air conditioners and commercial refrigeration equipment.

One of the other large providers of rebates for energy retrofits in this region is the New York Energy Smart Program, sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) (www.nyserda.ny.gov). A program review at dsireusa.org says NYSERDA offers incentives for lighting retrofits through several different programs, including its Commercial Lighting Program, Existing Facilities Program, and Multi-Family Performance Program. The Existing Facilities Program appears to be the largest and has $107 million in funds available through 2015 for qualifying electrical retrofits.

New York's Consolidated Edison has historically funded some of the biggest rebate programs in the United States. Its Commercial & Industrial (C&I) Energy Efficiency Program offers a broad array of rebates and offers end users lists of “market partners” including electrical distributors and electrical contractors who are trained to provide technical support to commercial and industrial customers for the installation of energy-efficient equipment and can assist with the application process. Prior to being listed on the program's web site, all market partners are pre-approved. But the competition to supply projects that qualify for the rebates is ferocious — 68 distributors of electrical supplies are approved as market partners, according to information on the ConEd website.

If you want to get a quick read on trends in lighting rebate programs, check out www.dsireusa.org. Maintained by the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), www.dsireusa.org provides an amazing amount of detail on utilities' rebate programs and other state and federal financial incentives.

With the amount of money currently fueling lighting rebate programs, they are hardly a secret. But knowing the ins-and-outs of the often tricky rebate process will always be\ a great service that you can offer your customers.