City Council approves streetlight replacement due to sparking light pollution concerns

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 - 2:48pm

City Council voted on July 3 to approve a $1.1 million taxpayer-funded project that will install new LED streetlights on Liberty Street and in Kerrytown.

The municipality will be entering into a $789,672 contract with Corby Energy Services, Inc. for the replacement of over 70 streetlights. This contract also includes a $78,967 contingency, a reserve fund to ensure completion of the project in case Corby exceeds their budget.

Nathan Geisler, Energy Programs Analyst for the city of Ann Arbor, detailed the importance of the project.

“The community streetlight system is a mixture of over two thousand lights that the city owns and more than twice as many additional streetlights that are owned by the local electric utility DTE Energy,” Geisler said. “Nearly all city streetlights have already been converted to LED, and this latest project is a needed upgrade of the foundation and light poles along with newer LED luminaires with improved projected savings.”

According to Councilmember Julie Grand (D–Ward 3), issues with the poles’ corrosion were brought to the council’s attention by staff that monitors the conditions of the city’s assets. The lights were lacking stability and possessed rusted bases, a problem that streetlights along Main Street faced over the past few years.

“The big issue with the street lighting is that the poles were deteriorating, and so then it becomes a safety issue,” Grand said.

Funding for the project is a joint effort between the city of Ann Arbor and the Downtown Development Authority. The DDA will be contributing $150,000 to the project.

The DDA and city municipality will work together to decide on the globe and pole designs, which must match the aesthetic of the downtown area while meeting requirements on safety, energy savings and light color. The two departments are also attempting to develop streetlights that will require low maintenance demands over time.

“The technology has come a long way and is a good example of (research and development) investment from the federal government as well as entrepreneurs and the market making options increasingly accessible,” Geisler said.

The benefits arising from LED lights are numerous. According to Geisler, these lights require half of or less than half of the electricity needed to power conventional lighting. The bulbs also save money in maintenance and are made without mercury, an element that can be potentially dangerous.

Geisler said the new LED streetlights will create a safer downtown area by removing the dangers of unstable poles as well as reducing energy costs and lowering the environmental impact of Ann Arbor’s energy use.

“Hopefully the quality of upgraded LEDs is a public and environmental benefit from a well-being and community pride standpoint for all in Ann Arbor, including students,” he said.

Some are concerned the installment of the new LED lighting could end up being a missed opportunity to reduce light pollution, however. A letter to Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and all of City Council is urging them to consider outfitting the new lighting to minimize light pollution and energy waste and has been signed by 40 students and faculty members from the University of Michigan's astronomy department, including the department chair, Edwin Bergin.

"Updating the globe lighting fixtures offers a critical opportunity to address their light pollution, which is a serious environmental concern,” the letter reads. “In addition, while LEDs offer important and desirable energy efficiency, many options for the emitted color spectrum are harmful for both human health and the environment. We ask that the City of Ann Arbor consider transitioning all street light fixtures to fully shielded designs with LEDs of color temperature 3000K or less."