And on the third Monday in April, the Vancouver City Council said: Let there be lights.
Streetlights, that is. Let there be 13,500 of them — a project that will cost the city about $4 million upfront but cut its annual electricity bill in half.
The city council gave the purchase the green light (or, technically, a whole lot of white lights) during its regular public meeting Monday. The new LEDs, shorthand for light emitting diodes, will replace all of the classic, cobra head-style streetlights within Vancouver city limits.
Vancouver is behind the curve when it comes to making the switch. According to Bill Hibbs, commercial programs and key accounts manager at Clark Public Utilities, Camas, La Center, Ridgefield, Washougal and Yacolt have all taken advantage of a small-cities transportation grant to upgrade their lighting infrastructure to LEDs.
“There’s not a lot of negative feedback that we hear from customers,” Hibbs said.
Clark Public Utilities is partnering with Vancouver on the project, contributing $1.3 million as part of the company’s cash incentive program to promote energy-efficient updates.
Currently, the cobra head streetlights use high-pressure sodium bulbs that cast a warm, hazy orange glow. They might be atmospheric, but they’re inefficient: Compared to LED lights, they use about twice as much electricity. LEDs also last around six times longer before they need to be replaced.
Passersby will likely notice a difference. The new bulbs will be a “soft white” with a color temperature of 3,000 Kelvin, similar to a typical household LED, according to a written report from City Manager Eric Holmes.
LED lights also look different in that they don’t glow in the traditional sense. They waste little energy radiating in the wrong direction — instead, they’re stark, directional beams of light. Pedestrians walking just off the sidewalk, for example, might notice that it’s darker outside of the lights’ range than it had been with the sodium lights, Hibbs said.
“LEDs do operate much differently. Whereas HID (high-intensity discharge) lighting is a kind of radiant source, and it’s giving off light 360 degrees, LED is much more positional,” Hibbs said.
Purchasing the new fixtures will cost about $2 million, with an additional $2 million for installation and construction management. The LEDs should save Vancouver approximately $470,000 a year, slashing the $900,000 the city currently pays to light its streets at night by more than half.
In addition to Clark Public Utilities’ $1.3 million contribution, the city was approved to receive a $4.8 million Public Works Trust Fund loan for the project.
“The yearly savings from the electricity costs will be applied to paying back the (Public Works Trust Fund) loan each year. It is estimated that the (Public Works Trust Fund) loan will be paid back in approximately six years,” Holmes wrote in his report.
However, the project won’t touch the decorative acorn lights perched on vertical lampposts scattered throughout downtown.
“The decorative style LED lights are currently more expensive to purchase and do not yet have desirable payback savings. City staff will continue to look for cost-effective alternatives for replacing the decorative-style fixtures,” Holmes wrote.
Mayor Pro Tem Bart Hansen recused himself from Monday’s vote, citing a conflict of interest. Hansen is an accounts manager at Clark Public Utilities.