Promise of LED grabs attention of Allegheny County communities
By Brian Bowling
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Several communities' plans for a brighter future are awaiting the state Public Utility Commission's review of a Duquesne Light Co. rate proposal.
The proposal includes a plan to convert about 1,500 street lights a year to LED street lights.
The lights use less energy and require less maintenance than the high pressure sodium or metal halide lights commonly used to illuminate streets, but one of the main arguments for switching is that they provide more light, Baldwin Borough Manager John Barrett said.
“It's a better light,” he said. “The light it gives off is cleaner.”
The borough has been investigating the promise of LED street lights for years but, like most other area communities, it doesn't own the lights so it has to work with the utility to make the switch. Duquesne Light doesn't have a state-approved tariff for LED street lights.
The PUC has to make a final decision on Duquesne Light's request by May. If it approves the tariff, the next step will be the utility deciding which communities will get the lights first. Baldwin and Crafton are among communities that have volunteered to be in the pilot program.
After salaries and health insurance coverage, the third-largest cost for many communities is lighting their streets, so a chance to reduce that cost grabs their attention, said Robert Callen, Crafton manager.
“We certainly have interest in that, depending on what the final tariff will be,” he said.
The borough spends about $92,700 of its $4 million budget on street lights. The money comes from its share of the state's Liquid Fuels Fund. The fund is limited to paying for street maintenance or lights, so if the borough spends less on street lights, it can spend more on roads, he said.
Baldwin has turned off about 350 street lights to save money, leaving it with about 1,000 lights covering its 5.5 square miles, Barrett said.
While the primary factor was cost, the lights weren't really helping, he said. “We think that the lights that are out there don't provide a lot of light to motorists or residents,” he said.
Duquesne Light spokesman Joey Vallarian declined comment on the pending request, but several municipal managers said the company has been working with them to develop the program.
Kathy Risko, executive director of the Congress for Neighboring Communities, which the University of Pittsburgh established as a forum for local cooperation, said the group studied LED street lights as one of its first issues.
There were concerns, early on, about how long an LED street light would last and how much maintenance it would take. CONNECT studied communities that had made the switch.
“Mainly, what we've seen is that there are cost savings,” she said.
Mt. Lebanon owns the street lights in its Beverly and Washington road business districts. It has switched Washington Road to LED street lights and has set aside $75,000 to switch the lights along Beverly Road as part of a street improvement project, said Eric Milliron, the municipality's commercial districts manager.
“The sidewalks haven't been addressed for about 20 years,” he said.
Mt. Lebanon is searching for a state match to pay for the project, which it estimates will cost $150,000, he said.
Tom Kelley, Mt. Lebanon's public works director, said the Washington Road lights are proving their worth.
“We're using roughly 70 percent less electric,” he said.
Tarentum operates AN electrical service and owns its street lights, so it made the switch more than a year ago.
“They've worked out really well,” said Bill Rossey, the borough's manager.
Replacing about 450 high-pressure sodium lights with LED lights has the borough saving about $1,000 a month, even with payments on the loan it took to replace the sodium fixtures with LED fixtures, he said.
“The maintenance is pretty minimal on them, and the energy use is way down — it's 60 percent less,” he said.
When the loan is paid off in about six years, the borough will save more money, Rossey said.
FirstEnergy, the parent company of West Penn Power, is working on a LED street light program for West Penn Power and its nine other electric company subsidiaries, said company spokesman Todd Meyers.
“It's definitely a technology that has captured our attention,” he said. “We think it's proven, and there are some good designs out there.”
FirstEnergy doesn't have a specific timetable for when it will take its proposal to regulators in the states where its electric companies operate, he said.
“We have to finish doing our homework and then get everything together and take it to regulatory commissions,” Meyers said.
The technology has captured PennDOT's attention but not its pocketbook, said District 11 spokesman Steve Cowan.
“While LED lighting is the lighting of the future, we're still a few years from implementing it here in District 11,” he said.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or email@example.com.
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