Lakewood might switch to LED streetlights

City Council hears proposal that would save money; it would need a state grant, and time is running out

Staff writerJanuary 21, 2014 

Lakewood is considering replacement of its roughly 3,000 streetlights, exchanging the familiar orange glow for the blue hue cast by LED lights.

Preliminary estimates show the city could save roughly $250,000 a year from the switch, which includes energy savings and reduced maintenance costs. It also would improve visibility, according to city staff.

The idea was presented to the Lakewood City Council at a meeting last week. Council members don’t have to make a decision yet, but city transportation manager Desiree Winkler is looking for their support before applying for a state grant with an approaching Jan. 30 deadline.

The city needs the grant to help cover part of the project cost. If it doesn’t get the money, it won’t do the replacement, Lakewood City Manager John Caulfield said.

The project is estimated to cost around $2 million, but that number could change.

Before giving Winkler the go-ahead, some on the council said they want a better idea of estimated savings. Those numbers won’t be available until later this month, she said.

Councilman John Simpson wondered whether the city should focus on streetlights or on finding money to repair and maintain streets instead.

“We have a competing interest between pavement and lights,” he said at Monday’s meeting. Councilman Paul Bocchi supports the replacement but has concerns about how it will be perceived. People have asked for more streetlights in neighborhoods, but the city doesn’t have the money to add them, he said. He’s worried they’ll see this project and question why the money isn’t being used to add lighting.

Mayor Don Anderson said the project is about realizing energy savings.

“I don’t see this as a competition with new streetlights or pavement,” Anderson said. “We might have some difficulty explaining to people why we wouldn’t have new streetlights or paving, but it’s the right thing to do.”

The city will compete with other agencies vying for $18 million from the state Department of Commerce. Another $7 million is available in 2015. The maximum amount the city could receive is $500,000.

Among those lining up for the money is the city of Yakima, which wants to trade out some 4,000 high-pressure sodium streetlights.

If approved, Lakewood would use the grant to repay part of a state loan it hopes to get to fund the project. The city would also use some of the savings from the light replacement to repay the loan.

The project would be coordinated through the state Department of Enterprise Services. The department operates a program to reduce energy use in public facilities.

It has an ongoing project with the city of Olympia to replace two-thirds of its streetlights with LED bulbs and has completed other types of energy projects with the town of Steilacoom, Metro Parks Tacoma, Pierce College, the Department of Corrections on McNeil Island and the Clover Park School District.

The benefit of working with the state is that project costs are set, and energy savings are guaranteed, said Lisa Steel, a Department of Enterprise Services engineer.

By comparison, the city of Tacoma is slowly replacing its 21,600 bulbs with LED lights as they burn out, according to Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver. With that many lights replaced sporadically, it will take time before Tacoma sees noticeable savings.

Lakewood would see additional savings from reduced maintenance costs. Winkler estimated the city spends $25,000 to $40,000 a year replacing bulbs on poles owned by Lakeview Light and Power. Tacoma Power and Puget Sound Energy also have poles in the city.

LED bulbs last roughly 20 years, minimizing maintenance needs. The sodium bulbs currently in place burn out in two to four years, Winkler said.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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