The Norman Transcript

January 20, 2013

New lights reduce light pollution

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — As the old saying goes, “one thing leads to another,” and in the case of Norman city street lighting, that one thing — a discussion about revising the city’s lighting ordinance — led to a mile -and-a-half long lighting project. The pilot lighting project on Main Street could save the city as much as $25,000 annually.

The good news doesn’t stop there.

The new, full-cutoff LED lights are aesthetically more pleasing to look at and there is less “light pollution” from spillover. In addition, the lights are energy savers and more environmentally friendly than the old lighting system it replaced.

The project began as a gleam of an idea in the brain of Norman Transportation Engineer, Angelo Lombardo.

During discussions over how a revised city lighting ordinance would work on the roadways, the city looked into what local electric providers OG&E and OEC offer the city for road lighting and how those options comply with the new ordinance.

“We got into talking about introducing a light fixture for roadway light that would be full cutoff — basically limiting how much light goes above the horizontal plane,” Lombardo said. “It’s a type of light that limits light pollution and makes our skies darker. It’s a more efficient use of light. You want the light to shine down.”

Lighting technology is constantly evolving.

“In Norman, citizens will notice, if they pay attention to the type of lighting, we have three different types of illumination for roadways,” Lombardo said.

The oldest type of lighting is being phased out. That’s mercury vapor, a bluish light that is low maintenance in that it lasts for up to 15 years. But the light slowly dims over time and by the end of its life, produces very little light while still drawing the same amount of electricity. It’s not a very energy efficient light, and there are environmental issues with the disposal of the mercury vapor. OG&E no longer uses them, replacing them with an alternative as they burn out.

The most common kind of lighting right now, the backbone for most Oklahoma roadways and probably national roadways, is the high pressure sodium light. High pressure sodium lights last four to five years and are more energy efficient than the mercury vapor lights.

Another newer lighting technology uses metal halide lights.

“That’s what we have in the downtown area,” Lombardo said. “People like that because it’s a more natural light and colors at night resemble what you would see during the day. The problem with the metal halide is that it’s less efficient.”

The metal halide lamps burn out after 18 months to two years, resulting in higher maintenance costs.

LED is the wave of the future, Lombardo said.

“We identified to council that we wanted to try this technology,” he said. “We cannot do this apart from OG&E and OEC because they maintain all of the lighting in the city of Norman.”

The new LED lights along Main Street are not the standard street light.

“It’s new for them and for us,” he said. “We are working in partnership and doing this as a pilot project. They will assess the maintenance requirements over time and the energy consumption over time.”

The pilot project could result in an LED option being adopted by OG&E across the state with a Corporation Commission approved rate for the lights.

The new lights also limit light spillover.

“If you look at the Main Street project, even though it’s LED technology, it’s also full cut off,” Lombardo said.

Less light comes off the back side of the fixture where that light could bleed into residential areas and the backyards of homes.

The LED lights are estimated to last 8-10 years.

“It’s not so much the LED that burns out, but other electronic devices in the light,” Lombardo said. “The lab testing shows that these lights can last up to 8 or 10 years. There will be some that don’t last that long but some that could last longer.”

This type of light is more efficient and uses less electricity.

How much the city pays the electric provider for a light takes into consideration the cost of maintenance and the electricity use. Also, if the electric provider has to make the structural investment in the light poles and lamps, the charge is higher. If the city makes the investment in the infrastructure, the charge is lower even though the electric provider — OG&E or OEC — maintains the light.

The Main Street lighting project runs from west of Merkle Drive to University Boulevard. It’s a $1, 083,917 contract paid with 100 percent transportation safety funding by Surface Transportation Project (STP) grant funds channeled through the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG).

“I’m not aware of a city doing a mile-and-a-half of an LED continuous roadway project,” Lombardo said. “To this scale, this is the first time that a city has done a replacement of a system.”

The system being replaced was owned by OG&E. Now the city will own the system but OG&E has agreed to stock parts they don’t normally carry in order to maintain the new lights. It’s that partnership that could lead to cities throughout Oklahoma turning to the energy conserving LED lights in the future.

“We have estimated that we will actually save in the range of $20-25,000 per year because now we are the owners of that system,” Lombardo said.

The drawback is that if a motorist runs into a light pole and damages it, for example, the city will be out the cost of replacing that infrastructure. But those replacements are relatively rare, Lombardo said, and often a motorist’s insurance will pick up the cost.

The next LED project for city road lighting has already been bid. The city will replace lights on Jenkins from Highway 9 to Constitution Street. That will also be funded 100 percent with STP money.

Construction on Jenkins will start in early spring with the same contractor; Midstate Traffic Control. This project also replaces OG&E’s infrastructure and should amount to sizable savings for the city.

Lombardo said a standard high pressure sodium light costs the city around $15 per month. These new LED lights are expected to run in the range of $5-6 per month.

There were 71 poles replaced on Main Street. Some poles have more than one light.

“We’ve removed some clutter from the environment,” Lombardo said. “The original system, power was fed from the air.:

Now the power feed is underground.

“That was one big challenges in the project because we had to start with a very congested corridor of utilities,” he said.

The placement of the poles were also of concern because they could affect sidewalk passage.

“Sidewalks in those areas will be widened to make sure we are in full compliance with ADA,” he said.

“I think it’s really a win-win -win project for the city of Norman,” Lombardo said. “We’ve replaced something that was aesthetically a borderline nuisance.”

The new lights are environmentally friendly, cost conservative and aesthetically pleasing.

Joy Hampton




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