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Greening the Greenroom

Amy L. Slingerland • Lighting & Projection • November 5, 2007

Some convenient truths about energy-efficient theatres

When it comes to the modern issues of energy conservation and environmental stewardship, theatres can sometimes be in the dark. But there are many things an organization can do to make itself more green. Here are a few examples of theatres that are implementing energy-efficient and eco-conscious programs.

Old House, New Energy
Stagecrafters, in Philadelphia, is beginning to take steps to reduce its energy consumption and green its organization. Like a lot of people, Joe Herman, a member of Stagecrafters’ board of directors, saw the movie An Inconvenient Truth and decided to start changing his lifestyle to be more energy efficient; he extended this to the theatre as well.

“The first thing we did was replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs,” Herman says. “It’s affected our electricity bill on the order of 15 percent, so it’s been a pretty quick payoff. The other thing we did was create a green subscription option — a $2 extra charge, $1 of which goes to buying clean energy, and $1 of which will go toward additional energy-saving efforts.” Herman says that about two-thirds of people who purchased online subscriptions chose the green option. He also points out that only about 10 percent of people choose to donate when offered a general donation option, so a targeted donation seems to be more appealing to patrons.

The theatre plans to buy wind power from its local utility with the money raised from the green subscription because it doesn’t require them to switch over to a new energy supplier. This will allow them to simply buy as much clean power as they wish after the theatre has tallied the amount of the green subscriptions. The other dollar from the green option will be used for capital improvements, such as insulation, to the Stagecrafters’ historic buildings — one dating from the 18th century and the other from the 1930s. Currently, the theatre is in the process of finding a consultant to perform an energy audit on the buildings to determine what improvements will be of most benefit.

For the future, Stagecrafters is looking to parlay these efforts into a fundraising strategy. “We wanted to have some actions in place; then, as we go to corporations for fundraising, we’ll have those green actions we’ve taken to demonstrate where we’re moving,” Herman says. “We just wrote a grant application with the city to make a number of capital improvements. A lot of those would be improving our energy efficiency, and we’re waiting to hear the results of that.”

LEED-ing the Way
In New York City, the New Victory Theater’s LEED-certified director of facilities, Benno Van Noort, has instigated many energy-saving projects throughout its two buildings, the New Victory Theater, a 107-year-old, 500-seat venue, and the New 42nd Street Studios, a 10-story building with offices, rehearsal studios and a black-box theatre. Through NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and Con Edison, they have had energy audits performed on both buildings and have implemented numerous energy-reduction measures.

“Where we could, we replaced incandescent lighting with compact fluorescents or LEDs,” Van Noort says, and throughout both buildings they have installed motion-sensitive light switches, which turn off lights in unoccupied spaces.

Recently, the uplighting on the decorative plaster dome ceiling in the main auditorium was replaced with fiber optics. Dave Jensen, director of production, says, “We removed around 140 R-20 50 W incandescent uplights and replaced them with eight fiber-optic units that are powered by 100 W quartz lamps. This will result in a saving of 5,600 watts per hour. We are also currently replacing about 170 575 W incandescent PARs that we use to light our kinetic light sculpture on the facade of our studio building with LED PARs. The LED PARs draw about 40 watts each, for a total savings of 90,000 watts per hour.” Van Noort points out that the theatre’s annual electric bill for the facade alone was more than $60,000. “And that will be 80% less, so it will be below $10,000 per year,” he says.

Van Noort lists many other energy-saving and eco-conscious measures the organization has taken, including overhauling its HVAC systems to be more efficient, recycling programs not just for paper but also for computers, office furniture and carpet, and environmentally friendly cleaning systems.

At Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, N.Y., NYSERDA supported some new construction projects as part of the theatre’s $30 million capital campaign. In addition to converting its marquee lighting to LEDs, the theatre installed four 60 kW microturbines that allow it to generate its own electricity and built a central heating and chilling plant; the theatre sells some of the heating and cooling to the hotel next door. The system includes a centrifugal chiller, which, as Proctor’s CEO Philip Morris explains, “uses hot water to create cold water, which means the waste heat of our electric power will always be useful.” The sidewalks on the theatre’s block also had radiant heating installed underneath to melt snow and ice in the winter. Morris says, “Our plant generates about 75% less carbon than if we had traditional systems. So we know that we are as green as we can be using fossil fuels.”

Green Theatre in the Green Ring

Last year, Oregon’s Portland Center Stage moved into the rehabilitated Portland Armory, part of a downtown renewal project. Developer Gerding Edlen, a green building corporation, renovated the edifice, which is on the National Historical Register, to the LEED platinum level — the first performing arts space in the U.S. to achieve this. Overall, the building is projected to use 30%–35% less energy than a building of comparable size.

Creon Thorne, director of operations, says the building has skylights, daylight sensors, occupancy sensors, and high-efficiency HID, fluorescent and compact fluorescent fixtures. Performance lighting is mostly ETC Source Fours, one of the most energy-efficient theatrical light fixtures available. (ETC is also a very environmentally responsible company, employing many of the green solutions outlined here.)

The auditorium’s natural convection ventilation system helps save on heating and cooling costs. “The under-floor ventilation comes out with cool air at a very low velocity so it’s very quiet,” Thorne explains. “As it comes out of the diffusers, it cools the audience, and as it takes heat from the people, it rises up. The return ducts are up on the sides of the lighting grid, so it runs cooler than most grids. And the system has heat exchangers to capture some of the heat from those exhaust ducts.” The organization also has extensive recycling and water efficiency and reclamation systems.

In the end, as with any capital improvements and upgrades, going green does come down to financing and fundraising, but the expenditures do pay off. New Victory Theater President Cora Cahan says, “The initial costs of going green are far more affordable now than they were just a few years ago. Our experience informs us that the long-term savings are well worth careful, informed research on materials and equipment, since ongoing operating costs will be greatly diminished,” both in terms of maintenance as well as energy savings. Thom Trick, PCS’s PR manager, agrees. “These technologies end up paying for themselves. If people can take the life-cycle of a theatre into account and the number of years the theatre will be serving the community, then these kinds of investments begin to make sense.”

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