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Energy-Efficient LED Street Lights Could Be in Middletown's Future

The city's energy coordinator says the technology, rolled out in waves if voters approve a request to buy the lights from CL&P, could significantly reduce electricity costs and Middletown's carbon footprint.

Middletown CL&P Street Lights
Middletown CL&P Street Lights

If the common council approves the mayor's plan to send a $1.15 million street light purchase to referendum in November, taxpayers could see $3 million in savings over the next decade.

About $200,000 could be saved by the city annually if voters approve the purchase of more than 5,000 street lights and 1,000 poles from the electric company in November, Mayor Dan Drew announced Tuesday.

"Our electric rate will automatically go down by half," he said, from $800,000 annually to about $400,000. The rental fee CL&P charges includes the cost of maintaining and powering street lights.

The cost to taxpayers and the opportunity to upgrade to energy-efficient LED lights was the focus of many commenters on Middletown Patch's story, Middletown to Ask Voters for $1.15M CL&P Street Light Buy.

That $1.15 million price point, Middletown Energy Coordinator John Hall said, is negotiable with CL&P. Last August, the utility company gave a quote of $1.078 million, but since then, Hall said, the city reports 4 percent of the lights were found to be out. "So we'll use that information to negotiate a final purchase price." He's hoping for a cost of less than $1 million.

The plan is to slowly switch the current street lights, which are mostly metal halide with some high-pressure sodium bulbs, to light-emitting diode ones, according to Hall. He also runs Middlesex Energy Management, which mainly represents the city of Middletown.

"A contributing reason is that CL&P replaces lamps on a five-year basis. The price of all the lights depends on how recently they have replaced the lamps," Hall explained. "We're buying the lights when they are cheap and as they go out, we can replace bulb cheaper than CL&P would or we have the opportunity to upgrade to lower a wattage with LEDs."

Retrofitting all the city's street lights at once would be an expensive proposition, Hall said. Plans are to do it on a street-by-street basis. "The immediate benefit is ownership," he said. By example, Torrington has retrofitted some lights, Hall said.

Recently, the city retrofitted about 83 lights total lights — 42 in the Melilli Plaza parking lot and 41 on Main Street with induction lighting, which reduced the wattage by 50 percent, Hall said. 

With the city owning the lights, Drew said, there won't be a markup for hiring a contractor. "That's where the savings comes in." It's an investment that will pay for itself within three and a half years, the mayor said.

And now is the time to do it, when the price is low.

"We save more money by buying these lights than by not buying them. It's that simple," Drew said. "Over the next 10 years, the people of Middletown will see $3 million in savings," including a lower carbon footprint.

Metal halide bulbs last 12,000 hours, Hall said, whereas LED lights have a 50,000-hour lifespan. In terms of brightness, Hall said, LEDs require a third of the wattage of conventional bulbs to give the equivalent amount of light.

Some residents and business owners have expressed concerns about spotty lighting downtown, Drew said, which would be alleviated by LEDs. Hall says such street lights are very directional, which cuts down on light pollution, always a concern in cities.

Hall said there is perceptual and psychological issue when it comes to how people experience light.

"Lumens are usually measured by a light meter, but 'pupil lumens' indicate to what extent that light actually helps people see. The color of the light affects the pupils lumens. Those orange high-pressure sodium lights may put out a lot of lumens per watt, but whiter light — with more color at the blue end of the spectrum — helps the human eye see better, so people feel more secure in the whiter light, even if it is not technically much brighter.  

"LED lights can produce that color and brightness that suits the human eye and makes people feel safe, but at a much lower wattage," Hall explained. "So, we can achieve a more desirable effect and use less electricity. But changing to LEDs means more than screwing in different light bulbs. The whole fixture needs to be replaced, and that is expensive," Hall explained.

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Michael Stielau August 15, 2013 at 08:01 AM
LED lights are definitely the way to go, but I think it should be CL&P that replaces the current lights with LED's instead of Middletown having to foot the bill for it. IMHO, it sounds like CL&P is trying to rid themselves of a maintenance problem and dressing it up as a cost savings in order to sell the idea to Middletown taxpayers.
My Opinion August 15, 2013 at 08:59 AM
Bravo for an excellent article.
John Q. Public August 15, 2013 at 10:27 AM
Mr. Stielau: Why would you think that CL&P would replace the current lights at their own expense? They make money selling electricity, so there isn't any benefit to them. It's all well and good to say someone else should pay for it, but it is not going to happen. Also, CL&P doe not "want" to sell the lights. A state law forces them to sell the lights if the city wants to buy them. They make a guaranteed profit on the lights under the current deal and they would be very happy to continue doing so forever.
Michael Stielau August 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Mr. J.Q. Public: I think that CL&P should do it for the same reason that they replaced regular incandescent light bulbs with metal halide or sodium vapor lamps many years ago... a much more efficient use of a non-renewable energy resource. They made money selling electricity back then too, so there wasn't any benefit to them, as you put it, but they still did it.

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