By Barbara Clowers
In January of this year, the city of Davis entered into a contract with Siemens to retrofit the city’s high pressure sodium street lights with LED lamp heads to be placed on existing poles. This project did not have to go through a competitive bidding process because the savings to the city would exceed the cost of the project.
The Siemens bid was, however, 10% higher than a similar bid from PGE from July 2013. This was justified by “value added components” offered by Siemens. The value added, according to the contract, was “a strong component of savings and leverage to other longer payback facility improvement measures in the overall City project and its goals” and “strong financing options to leverage provided by this lighting component.” It is unclear how “strong financing options” are relevant to this project as it is self-funding.
Siemens is under contract with the city to perform an energy audit for city buildings and infrastructure. Apparently, they began the inventory of streetlights in the fall of 2013 before they had a contract for replacing streetlights which was signed in January 2014. Their contract requires them to:
- assume all risks in terms of fixed firm price and payback
- include photocells for fixtures
- replace badges (labels) on poles where they are missing
- deal with PG&E to see the City gets the new lower rate structure
- work with City staff to complete the project on time
- provide full-time project oversight
- train city staff and ensure optimal results during warranty period
- furnish all materials, equipment and labor to provide a turn-key street light replacement project
The City’s goals for this project were not comprehensive. They simply wanted to save money, reduce greenhouse gases and replace burned out fixtures and this is where the project went wrong. When a city contemplates infrastructure changes that will be in place for 20 years, some thought and research should precede action. One hour of staff time looking at information from non-industry sources would have alerted them to significant problems they might encounter changing over to LED luminaries. Warnings about the problems with blue-rich white streetlights have been common knowledge since 2009.
In a era of energy conservation, any energy conservation proposal should look at how much energy we use vs how much we need to use, when we use it and if we use it more than necessary. Indoor lighting is a good example. We used to turn the lights on in buildings in the morning and leave them on until maintenance finished cleaning and locked up at night. Now we have room sensors so lights turn off when the rooms aren’t in use.
The first step in this project should have been a science based determination of when, where, how and why we provide light at night and that should have involved members of the community as well as experts in the field. Currently, our municipal code says it is “essential for provision of general traffic safety and security and safety of persons and property within the city.”
The Davis Dark Sky Ordinance creates standards for outdoor lighting, “to create standards for outdoor lighting to minimize light pollution, glare, and light trespass caused by inappropriate or misaligned light fixtures, while improving nighttime public safety, utility, and security, and preserving the night sky as a natural resource and thus peoples enjoyment of looking at the stars.” There is a balance between the need to provide light at night and our inclination to make the night as bright as possible. Every upside has a downside.
Regarding our liability versus our responsibility to provide lighting, there is no law mandating we provide street lighting. California law consistently finds for cities if they are sued for failing to provide lighting, however, when a street light exists and isn’t maintained, the city does become liable. Lucas Frerichs has tried to have burned out street lights replaced since he was elected but he has been put off every time by this street light retrofit project.
When the project began replacing streetlights, they started in far west Davis and worked eastward. They did not replace burned out lights first and there are still many burned out lights. The city says they will fix burned out or flickering lights in 7 to 10 days when they are reported. We should hold them to that. Repair should not be held hostage to a flawed retrofit program.
Once we establish updated criteria for providing light at night, we need to determine IF we are meeting those goals. That requires a review of where we have streetlights and an process to evaluate them. Most streetlights are installed by developers when a subdivision is built. Some lights are installed in response to accidents regardless of whether light was a contributing factor.
Some lights are installed on utility poles by PGE. I learned recently of a home here in Davis with a streetlight place in the driveway, dividing it at about one third its width. There is NO process in place to remove or relocate this streetlight. I count eight street lights at many intersections.
This is probably more than is needed. Why should we pay for eight street lights IF four are not only adequate but may actually improve safety? It is time for a comprehensive re-evaluation of municipal lighting.