PG&E Streetlights: Color Temperature is NOT the Primary Issue


by Alan Miller

Despite what the City staff report for Tuesday’s City Council meeting implies, the streetlight issue is not resolved.

The Council will hear the item on Tuesday night, February 20th.  If you still have streetlights that glow orange and are bowl-shaped on the bottom, those lights are scheduled be replaced soon with PG&E’s streetlight brand-of-choice.  The Council needs to hear from residents of the older neighborhoods, where these replacement lamps will be installed.

We commend PG&E for listening and making progress.  They have agreed to go with a 2700k light rather than a 3000k light.  That number is good, but it is not the light that Davis residents chose in the 2014 field survey,  and despite what the staff report implies, color temperature is NOT the primary issue here.

Nor is this issue about Davis’ larger, arterial streets.  The 2700k streetlight is only used on low-traffic, residential streets.  All levels of arterial streets have the whiter, 4000K streetlights.  That is the agreement the City made with its residents in 2014.

Nor is this issue about streets with insufficient lighting – nor missing “dark” areas that need more light.  That is another discussion that neighbors wanting a specific area better lit need to
take up with the City on a case-by-case basis.

This is about the choice of lighting — and staying with the lamp chosen by residents in a City-sponsored field test that all Davis residents could participate in.  In that test, residents compared several brands of lamps in the 3000k range.  Residents overwhelmingly chose the Green Cobra, Jr. by LeoTek.  The City elected to go with an even yellower light by the same manufacturer –- 2700k — and residents approved that improvement via another field test.

This isn’t about “brand loyalty,” but rather the quality of light produced by a brand’s LED lamp.  Each manufacturer has their own method of producing the 2700k light, and the light quality, diffusion and coverage from each brand is starkly different.  This is because of how the light is produced, the number, size and pattern of the LEDs, how the light is diffused and hooded, the wattage, the rate of LED flicker, and other measurable factors.

The Green Cobra Jr. produces a warm, even, pleasant light.  This lamp is already installed on residential streets in most Davis neighborhoods.  That lamp should be installed on ALL Davis residential streets, as the City stated it would, back in 2014.

Residents have not had the chance to compare the light quality of the 2700k Cree brand PG&E lights with the 2700k LeoTek lights, despite my asking for a simple, side-by-side field test for several weeks now.  The City staff report says, if the City is “to move forward with the PG&E light conversion . . . confirmation needs to be conveyed to PG&E by the end of February.”  Thus, PG&E has created an artificial, bureaucratic deadline that now makes it impossible to have the time to conduct a real, comparative field test.

PG&E claims they conducted a survey, but their “survey” was a joke.  They installed five lights on 8th Street, and five lights in South Davis.  There was no comparison, these were all the same light — the 3000k Cree lamp. Rather than informing the thousands of residents to be affected in the hundreds of dwellings near the streetlights to be replaced, PG&E instead sent out a questionnaire to a handful of houses within 200 these ten lights, and received two responses, one positive and one neutral.  This test is made even more inane by the fact that half the test lamps were on 8th Street, an arterial road where a brighter, whiter lamp is the City standard and appropriate for that street.

Unlike the post-installation revolt of 2014, we are trying to save residents, the City and PG&E the headache of dealing with the issue after the lights are installed.  True, the outcry won’t be as widespread as it was with the 4000k lights, as the Cree lights aren’t as annoying, or as numerous, as the 1000’s of bright, blue-white LEDs installed in residential neighborhoods in 2014 that were later removed.  Maybe that is what PG&E is counting on — but there will be backlash.  Comparing the two brands’ 3000k lights, the Cree lights do not produce as pleasant a light as the LeoTek Green Cobra, Jr., and installing the Cree lights ignores Davis residents’ voted-on light-of-choice.

There is another issue – the PG&E-chosen lights use 32 watts of power, while the resident-chosen lights use just 19 watts.  Thus, these roughly 300 streetlights will use 68% more power, and cost the City roughly 68% more in energy costs — in perpetuity.  Why would residents or the City want this?

The spin by the City in the staff report is that converting to the PG&E light will save the City $13,000 annually in electricity costs.  However, installing the Green Cobra, Jr. will save the City an additional $5,000 annually in energy costs.  Those additional savings will pay off the cost of purchasing the more energy-efficient and pleasant Green Cobra, Jr lamps in about 15 years.

When I inquired with PG&E, I was told the reason they could not install the Green Cobra, Jr. were issues with carrying an additional style of replacement lamp on PG&E trucks, the replacement program ending soon, and issues of liability with placing City lamps on PG&E poles.  These are not insurmountable issues in a real-world sense, but bureaucratic issues that can be overcome — if there is a will to do so.

With the Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA) being implemented later this year, PG&E may wish to find a way to heed the wishes of Davis residents.  Quoting VCEA’s web page, “If you do not want to participate in VCEA, you may opt-out to stay with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) . . . Those who prefer to have PG&E continue to buy their electricity can choose that option.”

Residents annoyed at how PG&E proceeds with this current lighting issue are less likely to choose to buy their electricity from PG&E when VCEA comes online, and the choice residents make this year will probably remain their choice for years to come.  Does PG&E really want to annoy more Davis residents right now, on the eve of VCEA?

Will PG&E install the LED lamps they want to install, or will they work with Davis and find a way to install the LED lamps that Davis residents already chose?

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