World’s Foremost Automotive Museum Shifts Energy Efficiency into High Gear with PG&E’s On-Bill Financing Program

World’s Foremost Automotive Museum Shifts Energy Efficiency into High Gear with PG&E’s On-Bill Financing Program

By Megan Porter

Blackhawk Automotive Museum Success Story 

A model for energy efficiency, enhanced productivity and increased profitability, Blackhawk Automotive Museum’s road to an LED lighting upgrade was paved with promise and possibilities. Fueled by energy efficiency financing and support from a knowledgeable pit crew—General Electric (GE) and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)—the Blackhawk Automotive Museum is running on all cylinders while keeping a decades-old dream alive.

Constructed in 1988, the purpose-built museum boasts nearly 2000 bright sparkling lights, shiny marbled floors and dark mirrored galleries to showcase its automotive works of art in a powerful presentation. Lighting is not only important—it’s vital—to the proper staging of the exhibits that are open to the public year round. After more than twenty years of operation, at least a dozen bulbs were burning out a week and needing to be replaced in order to maintain the high standard of aestheticism that defines the museum. Energy efficiency was rapidly declining, while the museum’s electricity costs were steadily on the rise.

Change Ahead—Energy Use in the Museum
When Timothy McGrane came on board as Executive Director in 2013, discussions regarding the museum’s high monthly electricity costs were already underway. The two biggest culprits were lighting and air conditioning, and a limited budget seemed to be the biggest obstacle.

“Energy plays a key role in the success of our museum. While lighting directly affects the appearance of our displays, our HVAC system meets the exhibits climate requirements and provides a comfortable environment for our visitors. With no real budget for such large undertakings, our first order of business was deciding which of these would be most cost-effective to tackle as an upgrade.

We determined that an LED upgrade had the potential to make a greater financial impact. Switching to LED’s not only reduces our light bulb expense, but more energy efficient lighting could reduce the heat generated in the gallery. This would indirectly help lower our air conditioning use,” said McGrane.

Fueled Up—On-Bill Financing Program
One of the greatest obstacles to overcome with energy efficiency projects is finding available capital or financing at competitive rates. With PG&E’s On-Bill Financing program, Blackhawk Automotive Museum qualified for zero-percent interest financing in conjunction with the energy efficiency rebate and incentive programs to pay for its project.

“On–Bill Financing was a major part of our decision to get approval for this project. We had some missed opportunities in past years because the project approval had not been given priority. With buy-in from our board, agreement and cooperation from our stakeholders, and a full understanding of all the programs and entities involved, we were ready to trust the process. We did not have this budgeted and could not have afforded additional expenses without the rebate and incentive programs available.”

Bump in the Road—Not all light bulbs are created equal
From wattages and color rendering to the shape and style of the light, finding the right bulbs proved challenging. GE worked closely with McGrane and Blackhawk Automotive Museum’s in-house team to find, and ultimately create, a lighting option that would meet the high standards of the museum.

“The first six or seven LED’s that we saw did not come close to replicating the color of the old bulbs. This is a problem because the wrong lighting could turn a white car yellow, or a blue car green, and I knew the board members would never agree to anything that changed the integrity of our exhibits.”

GE met the challenge head on and found an effective bulb for the exhibit galleries. Next, they had to source a dimmable bulb that would work in the gallery used for social events, and yet a third type for the office spaces.

“New lighting incentive programs continued to come up during the course of our project which, combined with the On-Bill Financing Program, made our upgrade much more cost-effective.”

The Final Destination—Positive Results
The total cost for the energy efficiency LED lighting upgrade that Blackhawk Automotive Museum invested in was $64,663.84. With $37,310.70 in rebates from PG&E, the museum used On-Bill Financing to pay for the remaining $27,353.14.

In addition to the money and energy savings the museum has experienced since the completion of the upgrade, it is also reaping benefits from the improved lighting. These include:

  • Improved look of the exhibits
  • Reduced heat in the gallery with less need for air conditioning
  • Decreased time and money spent on replacing light bulbs

“Perhaps the biggest compliment came from a woman who chose to host a 450-person business group breakfast in one of our galleries. When I questioned why she would choose a car museum for her professional business women event, I expected her to say it was the large space or geographically appealing. Instead, she replied, “The lighting!”

How to get started
To learn more about available energy efficiency project financing to help your business manage energy consumption and reduce costs, contact the Business Customer Service Center at 1-800-468-4743 or visit

World’s Foremost Automotive Museum Shifts Energy Efficiency into High Gear with PG&E’s On-Bill Financing Program
  • SMB Blog Author
    Megan Porter
    Senior Program Marketing Manager at PG&E, is a recognized leader in solutions marketing for small and medium-sized businesses. Megan uses her proven and practical expertise to bring energy efficiency education to businesses in every industry. In this vital role, she develops and oversees highly successful initiatives that result in the adoption of more efficient long-term energy management behaviors.

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