Outdoor LED Lighting Continues to Spread Through the US

Some Utilities Lack Incentive To Promote Energy Conservation with Green Lighting

outdoor LED lighting projects

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As more and more cities across the United States invest in energy-efficient, durable LED lighting, two significant developments highlight triumphs and challenges in implementing the new technology. On the one hand, beautiful bridge lighting just installed in Waco, Texas exemplifies effective use of special outdoor lighting design features of LEDs. On the other hand, cities in Michigan are discovering how a utility’s regressive rate plans can put a damper on civic lighting upgrades.

First, the good news. Waco’s bold initiative to use color-shifting LED roadway lighting on two new bridges over the Brazos River has been realized thanks to a public-private partnership. The dual 620-foot bridges, with one-way traffic in each direction, were to be fitted with LED lighting by the Texas Department of Transportation. The city had hoped for colored lighting effects, made possible by LEDs’ capacity for incorporating multiple colors within one luminaire. However, a budget shortfall in the DOT meant that the colored effects would have to be scrapped. Waco’s Baylor University, situated adjacent to the bridges, kicked in $500,000 in supplemental funding for the colored effects.

The color-shifting LED lighting now illuminates the towers, cables, and decks of the bridges as well as parts of the Riverwalk, the city’s waterfront promenade. A central controller box manages all the lighting, which can be in a single color or in multiple colors selected for special occasions. The zestful lighting will enhance the experience of drivers headed in and out of Waco and will improve the scenery along the river. Seeing the bridge lit up in green and gold team colors will be a boost for fans coming to night games at the university’s new McLane Stadium.

Nationwide, most communities installing LED roadway lighting are able to realize a return on investment within four years because LEDs use one-third to one-half the electricity of older technologies. Utilities in most areas pass these savings along to ratepayers. Unfortunately for numerous cities in Michigan, the utility, DTE Energy, has submitted new rate plans that hinder rather than help in the conversion to energy-saving LEDs. The proposed new rates hike the charges for LED-equipped poles by 7 to 20 percent, while dropping the rate for sodium lighting by an equivalent percentage. Mercury lighting will also be cheaper than LED lighting. Last year, Ypsilanti became Michigan’s first city to convert all its streetlights to LEDs; the city of Warren is on course to follow suit, while many other cities are also phasing in municipal LED street lighting. If the PUC approves the rate changes, these communities will forfeit the cost savings they had counted on to realize a return on their substantial investment, raised through special levies on property owners.

Why do some utilities reward energy savings while others do not? A critical factor is whether the governing PUC has implemented a decoupling process to ensure that the utility has no incentive to promote wastefulness. In Michigan, the utility makes more money when people use more energy; thus it penalizes energy savers. In California, by contrast, the PUC’s decoupling process makes energy savings a good deal for PG&E. As PG&E notes on its own website:

Since PG&E’s profits generally do not depend on how much energy we sell, we have no reason to encourage customers to use more. On the contrary, we actually receive state-approved incentives to encourage customer energy efficiency, conservation, and use of renewable energy.

It is interesting to note that the entire island of Maui is in the process of converting to LED street lighting just two years after decoupling was put in place at the Maui Electric Company, Limited.

Utility ownership is also a factor in rate policies. A city-owned utility will favor energy-saving upgrades because it channels the energy savings back into city coffers. In the United States, 251 cities run their own electrical utilities; the remainder are privately owned. In most cities in Michigan (but not in Detroit), DTE owns not just the energy, but also the poles and lights. In spite of not owning this hardware, the municipalities have footed the bill for the LED upgrades. Cities and organizations are appealing to the Michigan Public Service Commission to reject the utility’s proposed changes.

Find Out How Much You Can Save With An LED Lighting Conversion

Great Basin Lighting, Inc. has performed conversions throughout California and Nevada and we’re ready to assist you with project planning and information.  Call the team at Great Basin Lighting today at (925) 240-1566 (California office) or (775) 333-0900 (Nevada office) or send us an email from our contact page.