Dec 2016 Newsletter: LEDs Offer Municipalities Quick Returns

What is one significant thing many municipalities can do to achieve nearly instantaneous cost savings while reducing greenhouse gas emissions? The answer is converting to LED streetlights.

Because they don’t have filaments that can burn out, LED lights have extremely long lives. An LED light can last 100,000 hours, so they have reduced maintenance costs, requiring less frequent replacement. They also give off less heat than other bulbs, and don’t contain toxic chemicals like mercury, unlike traditional high-pressure sodium lamps or mercury-vapor lamps.

Even more important, LEDs are highly energy efficient. LEDs actually have double the energy efficiency of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and use 15 percent of the energy of an incandescent bulb while generating more light per watt. (LEDs produce 80 lumens per watt; traditional streetlights only 58 lumens per watt.)

If this sounds like a slam-dunk, it is, which is why Sustainable Westchester is working to help the NYSERDA-funded Mid-Hudson Streetlight Consortium promote conversion to LED streetlights by Westchester municipalities.

Westchester is particularly fertile ground for making the switch, for one very practical reason: unique among other areas in New York, most municipalities in Westchester already own their own streetlights. “Not surprisingly,” says Nina Orville, a consultant whose firm, Abundant Efficiency, has been working with the Mid-Hudson Consortium in eight New York counties, “Westchester municipalities have been in the forefront of municipalities in New York State in converting to LED streetlights, because they’ve been able to do their own analysis and make a decision about making that investment to effect that energy efficiency improvement.”

To the best of Orville’s knowledge, the unique situation in Con Ed territory is simply an historical anomaly, but the result is that most Westchester municipalities in Con Ed territory own their own lights. “In the region where we’re working, with the exception of Con Ed service territory, municipalities do not own their own streetlights,” says Orville. “Utilities own the streetlights, so municipalities have not had an opportunity to take advantage of all the benefits that LED technology brings, because they haven’t had control over those assets.”

Orville says according to her tally, 19 Westchester municipalities have already fully converted their streetlights, and at least two more are in the process of doing so. There is hope for those municipalities in NYSEG territory, however. “In part because the municipalities leading these efforts in Westchester have been active in communicating the great results they’ve achieved,” says Orville, “that has led to a push by the Public Service Commission in communities throughout the state. The PSC is now requiring that utilities offer an LED option for municipalities that want the utility to continue owning the streetlights. The PSC has also put forward a process for utilities to purchase streetlights from the utility and be able to manage their own conversion. The success that we’ve had in Westchester County has created additional awareness throughout the state to take advantage of that. There’s a whole process underway in New York State, the REV strategy (Reforming the Energy Vision), which is really about aligning the objectives of efficiency, lower prices and reliability, and allowing municipalities to move forward in various ways—and being able to benefit from LED technology is squarely aligned with that whole vision.”

The first to make the conversion in Westchester, says Orville, was the Village of Dobbs Ferry, which in 2011 converted half their streetlights. “In 2012 the City of Yonkers undertook a really celebrated project to convert 100%—over 11,000 streetlights,” she says. “That Yonkers project really demonstrated that it made sense for everybody to consider converting. They did every streetlight in the city, and it resulted in net savings of about a million dollars a year after the financing cost, and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. They achieved savings of over 60%, dramatically reduced maintenance costs, better visibility—all the benefits that come from appropriate use of LED technology.” The Village of Mount Kisco has also recently been engaged in an LED conversion project.

Orville says the Mid-Hudson Consortium’s goal is to provide the most relevant and latest information, aggregated for all municipalities to use. One strategy is creating informational events. Bob Eliot, Interim Executive Director of Sustainable Westchester, is enthusiastic about Mid-Hudson Consortium’s work. “We’re trying to assist them and facilitating their program with the communities in Westchester. We are a clearinghouse for information; we can point municipalities in the right direction.” Sustainable Westchester co-sponsored a recent LED streetlight workshop in Scarsdale. “The Village of Scarsdale has been really generous in sharing their information,” Orville notes. “We want to make it as easy as possible for as many municipalities as possible. We were thrilled to have Sustainable Westchester as a cosponsor and look forward to continuing to collaborate with them.”

Eliot says Sustainable Westchester is helping the communities share their experiences. “It’s interesting that some of the municipalities are leading the way in this and at the same time sharing their experiences and the knowledge they’ve gained,” he says, “particularly on technical and aesthetic issues with color and brightness.”

Those issues have come to the fore as LED technology has improved rapidly. The U.S. Department of Energy now says that more than any other technology, LEDs offer the capability to provide, for each application, the right amount of light, with the right spectrum, where you need it, and when you need it. In that regard, LEDs have a number of distinct advantages over other lighting technologies. For one thing, the spectral content of LEDs can be tailored to order. Also, their dimmability means LED streetlighting systems can now provide only the level of illumination needed at any given time, which is nearly impossible for conventional streetlighting products. And LEDs also offer a high degree of control over the pattern and evenness of light on the ground. Conventional lamp-based technologies produce light in all directions, so more than half of the output is typically redirected toward the desired target by means of reflectors and lenses. This results in a considerable amount of light spilling in unwanted directions and spreading unevenly across the area, which not only wastes energy but may also cause problems such as impacts on wildlife.

“It’s an evolving area, so you can expect more and more choices,” says Orville, who explains that her consulting company is one of four partners in an effort that includes creating a guide for municipalities in the Mid-Hudson, which will be distributed throughout New York State. “It focuses on issues and options utilities offer, and we’ve done a lot of economic analysis for conversion in each of utility service territories. This is something that will be coming out in first quarter of next year.” Orville says they are now six months into a 2-year project in their eight counties that include Westchester. “There are a few conversions that are underway now in other counties— municipalities that have studied this for a while and undertook time-intensive efforts. Poughkeepsie is one example that has a conversion underway. We’re going to be supporting an aggregated procurement effort, so municipalities won’t have to start over creating an RFP. We’ll provide model RFP documents for others.”

Is pricing going to come down? New Rochelle and Elmsford went through a procurement process together a couple of years ago, says Orville, and built in a provision with the winning vendor to allow other communities to piggyback on their contract, and a number have done so. However, Orville notes, that contract is now a couple of years old so the pricing is no longer as attractive. “The savings from conversion is so significant that it doesn’t make sense to wait for prices to fall, so our advice is to not wait,” she says. “Municipalities in Con Ed territory have already experienced improved safety along with dramatic reductions in energy costs and maintenance costs. The time for LED conversion is now.”