Palo Alto makes switch to LED street lights

City Council approves installing 'greener' lights at 600 street fixtures, replacing all other lights within five years

Palo Alto's night owls will soon see their city in a different light -- a whitish glow, to be exact.

The City Council on Monday night approved the purchase of 600 LED (light-emitting diode) streetlights to replace the traditional and currently prevalent high-pressure sodium lights.

The project would affect about 10 percent of the city's total streetlights and replace the familiar yellowish glow with a whiter one. Utility officials hope to replace the other 5,400 streetlights over the next five years.

The new lights would be installed on El Camino Real between San Antonio Road and University Avenue, and on Alma Street between San Antonio Road and University Avenue.

The project is funded by a federal grant, which aims to promote energy efficiency. The new lights will give the city greater power to adjust brightness and will last roughly four times longer than the current bulbs.

Purchasing Manager Greg Pustelnik wrote in a report that these lights have "excellent thermal management and weather-resistance capabilities." The city gave these lights a trial run last spring.

The council voted unanimously to accept a staff recommendation to buy 600 bulbs from the Leotek Electronics USA Corp., for $355,281. Though several council members said they were worried about the broader problem of inadequate lighting in some parts of Palo Alto, everyone agreed that LED lights are the greener and more effective option than the sodium lights currently in use.

Councilman Larry Klein said other cities have already switched to the greener LED lights and said it's time for Palo Alto to follow suit.

"Not only are the LEDs much more cost effective and environmentally sound, they also give off in many ways brighter light and better light," Klein said.

Councilwoman Karen Holman said she was concerned about the broadcast of light in some areas of Palo Alto and called for the city to re-examine whether Palo Alto needs to install new light fixtures.

Councilman Greg Scharff mentioned inadequate lighting in some parts of town. Scharff said he noticed poor lighting in some parts of his neighborhood when he took his son Trick-or-Treating last month.

"I'm shocked by how badly lit it is," Scharff said. "It doesn't seem safe -- sometimes it seems pitch black."

He agreed that clean energy is important, but said the city should also "look at basics," which includes "lighting the streets where my children walk."

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2010 at 8:17 am

Residential areas are poorly lit. The street lights do a very poor job of lighting due to low lighting, too much distance between street lights and so many of the lights being surrounded by tree branches.

We have crews cutting trees around power lines, but I never hear about crews cutting trees around street lights to improve lighting. This must be the cheapest solution to improving residential lighting.

Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2010 at 8:29 am

Wow, $592 a bulb. Hope people don't start climbing street lamps and taking them!


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Posted by Mo
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2010 at 9:44 am

Here is what the City is claiming about LED streetlights:

Web Link

The City currently has 6,300 HPS streetlights. Assuming the pilot project finds continuing energy savings and subject to Council approval of the funding source, the Utilities Department will schedule replacements of all other HPS street lights in coming years. Replacing these HPS streetlights with more energy efficient ones can potentially reduce around 600 metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) per year upon full rollout by about 2015, which is equivalent to taking 120 passenger vehicles off the road annually. GHG reduction associated with upgrading the streetlights will help the City meet its GHG reduction target by 2020.

The following CMR outlines the cost issues:

Web Link

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a systems analysis of the cost savings for operating LED street lights on a 10-year basis. The current bulbs have a nominal lifetime of about 5 years, but cost significantly less than the current cost of LEDs. The LEDs use significantly less power, so the installation costs, the power savings, and the fact that the lifetime of the LEDs should be much longer than the current bulbs should make this a "win". But .. there doesn't seem to be anything that backs up this supposition on the City's WEB-site.

It's a shame no one on the City Council seems to have any sense of what constitutes good documentation--and demand it from the City Manager. Making decisions about street lighting should be based on more than taking hypothetical cars off the street.

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Posted by stargazer
a resident of Duveneck School
on Nov 23, 2010 at 11:53 am

Why is there no commentary about these new lights and light pollution? Astronomers (Lick Observatory, for instance) made a big push decades ago to get streetlights that wouldn't destroy the ability to see the night sky... how do these new white, intense lights measure up when it comes to light pollution? Are we just re-creating a problem we addressed some years back?

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Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 23, 2010 at 11:57 am

They're not $600 a BULB, they're $600 a HEAD. That's the whole object at the end of the pole, including the housing, mounting, lenses, etc. An LED bulb is a little tiny thing - each head has many, as well as reflectors to aim them correctly. Because they can be aimed, we should see somewhat better light distribution as a side benefit.

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Posted by Charlie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Someone mentioned doing cost analyses of LED vs. traditional sodium vapor street lighting. Of course analyses of been done, probably more by LED-street-light manufacturers as a sales tool. Part of the calculations include the expected lifespan of the LEDs. The companies may or may not provide realistic LED lifespan figures. What worries me is looking at many of the LED stoplights currently used in many local intersections. You'll see that many of the LEDs in the clusters of them in the stoplights have stopped working! I don't think the cities which purchased them expected them to die so soon .... Let the buyer beware of things that oftentimes seem to be too good to be true.

Like this comment
Posted by Let there be light
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm

"how do these new white, intense lights measure up when it comes to light pollution?"

They are much better as the light is very directional and always pointed down. This property of LED lights is actually a problem with regards to residential lighting as most home fixtures are designed for incandescent bulbs which emit light in all directions.

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Posted by Mo
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm

> Of course analyses of been done, probably more by
> LED-street-light manufacturers as a sales too

Yes, that's probably true. The point of the comment is that this sort of analysis should have been applied to Palo Alto's streetlight grid to see what the likely cost/benefit analysis might be.

> many of the LEDs in the clusters of them in the stoplights
> have stopped working!

This may, or may not, be a problem. Any suggestion about the decrease in visibility of the light at various distances? Unless there is significant light loss (due to the LED elements that have burned out), this is probably not a problem. Of course, if the City finds itself replacing these bulbs frequently, then it is a problem.

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Posted by Lycos
a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Palo Alto always seems to be good in spending money on feel good projects so, by golly, LED street light will be replaced, whatever the "economic analysis" will say! Remember the "state of the art" "must have" photovoltaic panels at the Municipal Service Center? Remember the $60M library bond when SJ built a beautiful library for 1/4 of that? And the fiber to the home is not dead yet either ...

But we don't have money to fill the potholes. We don't have money to bury the electrical cables in the ground. We don't have money to ...

Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Let us all go deeper in debt.Funded by a federal grant for a bright and broke future.

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Posted by Emily
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 11, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Oh my! I have 4 new LED lights around my house. I feel like I am living in the middle of a used car lot. I can practically read in my bedroom at night. There is a horrible green glow from shrubs around the house. I hate them. I feel like moving.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Sorry that your neighborhood is bright at night, better way to deter crime and enable pedestrians to be seen better on winter evenings. I call this a plus for the community.

If you find it too bright in your home, you might like to buy some thick blinds.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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