Forty-nine down, 13,451 to go.
That’s how many bulbs have been swapped out in Vancouver as of Monday afternoon as the city kicks off a project to replace all of the sodium bulbs in its cobra-head streetlights with energy-efficient LEDs.
Crews with Magnum Power, a contractor from Kelso, began the work late last week in the northeastern corner of the city. They’ll continue to work their way across Vancouver over the coming months, with an estimated completion of the project scheduled for fall 2020.
Neighborhoods in the southeastern portion are next. After that, crews will start working their way west, said Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman for the city’s Public Works Department.
“As they add on crews and depending on the workload, I know that they will be expanding that south of (Northeast) 18th (Street),” Callahan said.
The city’s major arterials may take a little longer than its residential areas, Callahan added, and likely won’t follow the same pattern.
“That takes having to set up and take down lane closures, as opposed to in the residential areas where they can move pretty quickly,” she said.
The Vancouver City Council decided to move forward with the project back in April, allocating $4 million to a switch that’s expected to slash the city’s lighting bill in half. Of that, around $2 million went to purchasing new fixtures, with an additional $2 million allocated for installation and construction management.
LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are energy-efficient bulbs that consume far less energy than traditional high-pressure sodium bulbs and have a longer useful life. They can generally go about 20 years without being changed, about twice as long as a sodium bulb.
The replacement bulbs will be a “warm white” similar to a typical household LED, with a color temperature of 3,000 degrees Kelvin. Drivers and pedestrians may notice that their street looks different under the new light.
Unlike sodium bulbs, LEDs don’t emit any of that orangey, atmospheric glow. Their beams are stark and directional. Bill Hibbs, commercial programs and key accounts manager at Clark Public Utilities, told The Columbian in April that’s what makes them so efficient. LEDs don’t “radiate” light, at least not in the traditional sense.
“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.
As a result, the new bulbs may decrease light pollution in some areas. But pedestrians might notice that their sidewalks are darker between streetlights because the bulbs don’t spread light as far laterally, filling in the gaps from one light to the next.
Not all the city’s streetlights are being converted. The decorative, acorn-style lights in the downtown area will remain as is — they’re more expensive to swap out, according to City Manager Eric Holmes, and so around 4,500 of the city’s lights will retain their orange glow for the time being.
Vancouver isn’t the first city in Clark County to jump on the LED train. Camas, La Center, Ridgefield, Washougal and Yacolt have already upgraded their lighting infrastructure with the efficient bulbs after taking advantage of a small-cities transportation grant.
Currently, Vancouver pays about $900,000 a year to light its streets. Once completed, installation of the new bulbs will cut that down to an estimated $430,000 per year. As a result, the project will likely pay for itself within nine years.
An incentive program through Clark Public Utilities, designed to spur upgrades that reduce energy usage, contributed $1.4 million. The rest of the initial cost came from a low-interest loan from the state Public Works Board.
Savings on the city’s electricity bill will initially go toward paying off the state loan. After that, the approximately $470,000 per year will be added to reserve funds and pay for future fixture replacements.
Magnum Power’s progress over the coming months will be tracked publicly in an online map tool, found at https://arcg.is/0veKK0.
For information on when streetlights in specific neighborhoods are scheduled to be swapped out, keep an eye on cityofvancouver.us/publicworks/page/streets-signals-street-lights. Callahan said the page will be updated with specific schedules as the work continues.