by James A. Bacon
Installing LEDs in street lights may be no panacea for municipal budget woes, but the payback is so high that one can’t help but wonder why every local government in Virginia isn’t doing it.
It’s heartening to heart that Virginia Beach, Virginia’s most populous city, is taking the plunge. Well, dipping its toe might be a more accurate description. According to the Virginian-Pilot, Highway Electric of Chesapeake will install about 180 LED street lights in the median of the newly expanded Princess Anne Road beginning January 5.
The main drawback of LEDs (light emitting diodes) is that they are more expensive than the high-pressure sodium lamps they replace: $6,600 compared to $4,800. But fewer LEDs are needed to light Princess Anne Road — 182 compared to 257 of the sodium lamps — so the total project cost is lower.
Moreover, maintenance and electricity costs are lower. An LED street lamp lasts five times longer than conventional lights. Over time, that saves the cost of buying new lights and the cost of sending crews to replace them. They also consume about half as much electricity as a sodium light. Virginia Beach spends about $5.4 million a year lighting all of its street lights, according to the Pilot. The city expects to be saving $650,000 annually within ten years by phasing in the LED lights.
Arlington County had converted 85% of its street lights to LEDs by August. But only a few Virginia localities have implemented the technology.
Bacon’s bottom line: The payback is so high that any citizens ought to get up in arms if their locality is failing to take advantage of this cost savings. But why not go a step further? Local governments can save even more by attaching sensors that detect the movement of cars and people. The lights turn on when someone is walking or driving nearby and turn off when no one’s around. As a bonus, burning less electricity reduces carbon dioxide emissions and power-plant pollution.
Admittedly, in Virginia the picture is complicated by the fact that Virginia Dominion Power owns many street lights. I’m not clear on how much say-so local governments have over how those lights are maintained. With that caveat, smart LED street lights is low hanging fruit that every local government should be plucking.