10 California Cities Saving Money With LED Street Lights

The Great Recession hammered California. The state received an economic drubbing (partly self inflicted; the housing bubble) from which it has not yet recovered. The unemployment rate, at 11.3%, is almost three points above the national average.

When tax receipts plummeted, Sacramento and local governments shed jobs to balance their books. California was one of only two states to see an increase in the unemployment rate since June 2009 and lose at least half of its jobs in the public sector.

Forced to balance their budgets, cities have several options, none appealing: raise taxes or fees, cut staff or services, or slash expenses. On this last measure, however, cities across California are realizing that one expense is entirely within their control – their electricity bill. Smart cities are saving energy and money by replacing inefficient high-pressure sodium (HPS) or high-intensity discharge street lights with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

LED street lights consume up to 80% less electricity than traditional lights. Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

The Sustainable City Network explains why:

Currently the most energy-efficient lights on the market – the light-emitting diode, or LED variety – are up to three times more expensive than their traditional counterparts. Still, if you can afford the up-front costs, experts say LED street lights can save money in the long run by consuming 50 to 80 percent less energy than conventional lighting products and virtually eliminate maintenance costs for up to 20 years. These benefits, advocates say, provide a 5-year payback in most cases.

Seattle, which plans to convert street lights citywide by 2014, has found that the switch to LEDs is already saving taxpayer money, and that falling prices are bringing projects in well under budget – nearly $5 million in the most recent round of installations.

“Our new LED street lights are already saving more than $300,000 each year and with the latest round of installations the annual savings is expected to grow to nearly $900,000,” Councilmember Bruce Harrell told the Sustainable City Network.

Back to California. And here I want to emphasize a point. Every city on the list below was able to undertake its LED retrofit project with funding provided wholly or in part from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – yes, the Tea Party- and GOP-maligned stimulus.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) received $314.5 million for energy-related projects and rebates from the stimulus bill (see this pamphlet [PDF] for details). One beneficiary, the Energy Efficient Conservation Block Grants Program (EECBG), has been a lifeline for cash-strapped California cities and counties.

The program has provided more than $35 million in direct payments to small California cities and counties to fund energy upgrades. The CEC estimates that every $1 of ARRA dollars invested in public sector building retrofits has returned $3 in additional economic output.

What did American taxpayers receive in return for that $35 million investment? An estimated 2,375 jobs created, 61.2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity savings, and $9 million that local governments shaved from their annual utility bills. Stimulus squandered? Hardly.

Here are 10 California cities that have turned to LED street lights to save money, improve safety, and slash carbon emissions:

1) Brisbane: This waterfront city south of San Francisco just completed a second street light swap-out, replacing 45 HPS street lights at the city marina parking lot with LEDs lamps that use half the energy. The project was funded by a $25,000 ARRA grant. Last year, Brisbane used a low-interest loan to replace 372 HPS street lights with LEDs.

Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/justingerdes/2012/01/30/10-california-cities-saving-money-with-led-street-lights/

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