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UpGrading Athens County One Bulb at a Time

Athens County’s newest step towards improving energy efficiency is both big and bright–in the form of LED lights, that is.

It was announced Sept. 14 that UpGrade Athens County (UAC) and the Campus Involvement Center at Ohio University are partnering to implement a change in the lighting for off-campus rental homes. In its latest effort to minimize energy usage throughout the county, AEP Ohio has donated 5,000 LED light bulbs, which community ambassadors will be dispersing and installing twice a week until the program is complete.

The bulbs will do more than provide sweeping energy reform within Athens–they will move the county even closer to its goal of winning the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP).

The goal of the GUEP competition is to develop innovative ways to increase energy efficiency and sustainability. As one of the 50 semifinalist communities across the nation, Athens County is searching for a new policy to help them reach the top. LED bulbs may just be the solution.

UpGrade Athens County has played a pivotal role in the community’s energy conservation movement.

It all began as a project by the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC). UAC and SOPEC work jointly toward raising energy awareness. Since its creation, UAC has collaborated with many other local environmental groups to enhance community education on the issue such as Empower Gas and Electric and Ohio University Climate Action Now (OUCAN). This time UAC is working directly with the university.

“The first step is just connecting with the OU community in general,” Mathew Roberts, information and outreach director of UAC, said. “Students should be thinking about energy when they search for rental properties, and they shouldn’t feel discouraged to have that be a top priority when they’re walking around a house.”

With the LED distribution already 65 percent complete, students won’t have to wait much longer to find a sustainable home easily. Roberts describes some of the details behind the new lighting initiative. Bulbs are packaged in groups of five, each bag containing an informational booklet about LED bulbs and their environmental impact. Savings generated through this program per rental will amount to $60 annually, totalling out at $60,000 for all the homes involved.

The main problem ambassadors have discovered with the program, though, is the difficulty of finding a time during which the majority of participating students will be home. The best window so far has proven to be after 5:15 P.M.

William Beale speaks to visitors at the UAC Eco-Village at the 2015 Athens Pawpaw Festival. Photo provided by UpGrade Athens County.
William Beale speaks to visitors at the UAC Eco-Village at the 2015 Athens Pawpaw Festival. Photo provided by UpGrade Athens County.

As the LED dispersal program continues to spread through Athens, UAC is working hard to raise awareness of the need for efficient energy in a number of other ways. The group’s most recent project was its Energy Village tent at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival. The tent featured guest speakers throughout the weekend–such as Geoff Greenfield of Third Sun Solar and keynote speaker David Wilhelm, as well as the involvement of OUCAN members and the Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition (OUSSC), two campus-based groups with their own environmental campaigns.

“We are trying to connect as many groups as possible to highlight that energy is everywhere,” Roberts said.

He admits that people find environmentalism hard to connect with, since the effects of leaving air conditioning or lights on when not at home aren’t immediately visible, but subtle changes to energy consumption can create a wave of impact.

One of the greater movements that UAC advocates for is food. Roberts said that a lot of energy is wasted by buying food from the grocery store, rather than by supporting local farmers. UAC also supports the OU Food Matters Club, which seeks to educate students about the integral role food plays in academic study, no matter the major. The club also supports low intensity agriculture, farming that minimizes the use of herbicides and pesticides.

Closely related to the LED distribution program is the smart renter campaign, a project undertaken by Empower Athens –SOPEC’s energy efficiency services provider– to assist landlords in the upgrading of their rental properties. This upgrade will result in an increase in efficiency along with property values, and utility bills are expected to be much lower. By working with landlords and not renters, energy efficiency is maintained and becomes a focal point for students looking for environmentally sustainable homes.

UAC is striving to connect Athens County and the university to provide a more efficient lifestyle for everyone, whereas parent company SOPEC has its sights set on increasing renewable energy usage throughout the region, specifically in Somerset, Ohio of Perry County and Meigs County.

As UAC works to unify a smaller community and SOPEC a larger one, the reach of people involved isn’t important… It’s the strength of the message that will result in an environmental shift for the better.


Keragen may only be a freshman, but she’s an old lady at heart. She can often be found knitting, swaddled in a blanket and watching the Game Show Network. Other hobbies include hiking and zinging one-liners, and her life goal is to be the next Leslie Knope (except multilingual). She is a freshman Journalism major hoping to earn a concentration in Environmental Studies and a minor in Japanese…

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