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City Receives $25K from Heinz Endowments to Study LED Streetlights, Promote Energy Conservation

You may have noticed the street lights on Bigelow Boulevard have taken on a different hue over the last year.

That’s because they’re now LEDs, or light emitting diodes, which the city is expecting will save thousands of dollars in energy and maintenance costs.

But it’s not quite sure just how much energy and money is being saved by the LEDs installed near roadways and in business districts across the city, which is where a new $25,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments comes in.

“The city is starting to … develop an additional round of LED light installations with our street lights, so we’re looking to benchmark the performance of prior installations so we can guide the decision-making process on future installations,” said Grant Ervin, sustainability manager for the city.

The grant will pay for that analysis, and for a public awareness campaign about the benefits of dark skies and energy conservation.

“There’s the aesthetic benefits of seeing the dark skies at night and the stars way up there, but it’s also important from an environmental aspect, in terms of … animals and birds and just the natural rhythm of life,” Ervin said.

According to the International Dark-Sky Association, light pollution can negatively affect nocturnal wildlife when it comes to migration, foraging and mating. It can also disrupt circadian rhythms in humans and has been linked to depression, diabetes and even cancer.

A recent change in city code allowed LEDs to be installed in parking garages, and with the help of a state grant, the Sports and Exhibition Authority switched out older light bulbs for new LED bulbs at the North General Robinson Garage on the North Side.

“With a roughly $500,000 lighting and control system retro-fit, they were able to reduce their energy costs $60,000 within the first month,” Ervin said.

Ervin said previous rounds of street light upgrades have focused on central business districts and heavily traveled roadways.

“The next phase will start to investigate … the upgrading of lights inside of different neighborhoods. That’s part of the game plan we’ll be developing … through the research that the Heinz grant will enable us to do,” Ervin said.

According to a 2011 Carnegie Mellon University study, replacing all 40,000 of the city’s street lights with LEDs would save the city an estimated $1.7 million in energy and maintenance costs annually.