Woodinville streets will soon become brighter as the city and Puget Sound Energy team up to install energy-efficient LED streetlights, which will save on operating costs despite the initial cost of the infrastructure.
"That technology has come down in price," City Manager Richard Leahy said of the light emitting diode (LED) streetlights. "It’s made it more attractive to the city, particularly because of the potential economic savings, lower environmental impact, and also the PSE’s offering rebates for us to convert."
Most of the city’s 655 streetlights — two-thirds of which are owned by PSE and one-third of which are owned by Woodinville — now use high-pressure sodium (HPS) or mercury vapor (MV) bulbs.
LEDs use less energy to provide a similar lighting level, emit a brighter bluish-white light rather than the yellowish-orange glow of HPS bulbs and give more directed light with less spillover, Leahy said at the Dec. 3 City Council meeting, where the council unanimously approved the agreement with Puget Sound to update the streetlights. Since LEDs have a longer lifespan, they also promise lower maintenance costs.
The city’s 2013-2014 budget included $250,000 to convert streetlights, Leahy said.
Replacing the lights will cost Woodinville about $181,000, but PSE will pay the city a $30,000 rebate, for a total cost of $151,000 for the city.
The energy savings of the new lights will make up for the cost of installing them within six and a half years, Leahy said. Or, to put it another way, the annual savings — an estimated $23,000, or $53 per light — is about equal to a 1 percent property tax.
Not all of the city’s streetlights will be replaced. Only PSE-owned lights — 435 out of 655 — will be updated in this project, but Leahy said next year the city will analyze converting the 220 city-owned lights, including those in the tourist district and in neighborhoods.
Councilmember Les Rubstello questioned spending the city’s money on lights owned by PSE, saying he’d prefer to update the lights Woodinville owns.
"So we’re paying PSE to update their infrastructure?" he wondered. "Because they own these … I guess I’m just a little bit questioning why we are paying PSE to update."
Steve Maloney echoed that in his comments to the council: "Why do we have to upgrade their infrastructure?"
PSE might not update the lights anytime soon, Leahy explained. And, "it’s been a good process and exercise for us, really, because we’ve really never known, since the city incorporated, how many streetlights we had and what kind of bulbs they had in them and any of that."
When Seattle installed LED streetlights beginning several years ago, some residents complained they were too bright, or that the cool bluish light was unappealing. "The city has been installing these new streetlights in crude one-size-fits-all fashion with little regard to Seattle’s hilly terrain, bombarding many residents, outside and sometimes inside their homes, with intrusive, blinding glare," a March 2013 Crosscut article read.
Mayor Bernie Talmas and Councilmember Paula Waters worried Woodinville’s LED lights might also be too bright.
But the city already has a few LED bulbs in new streetlights, such as those on the widened stretch of Woodinville-Duvall Road and on NE 195 Street near Woodinville High School, Leahy said. Other council members said those lights gave direct illumination without light pollution.
"I live on Woodinville-Duvall Road, and the section that they’ve done with the LED lights out there has really increased the visibility," Councilmember Paulette Bauman commented. "I believe it’s made it much safer in terms of heading down the road in the darkness, and the spillover light into the residential is very limited. It’s actually surprising."
PSE will replace the lights it owns in the next four to 10 weeks, depending on weather.
Photo by Briana Gerdeman