2018-05-18 / Front Page

South Portland makes preliminary lighting pick

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Despite an admittedly anemic response to public polling, South Portland has made a choice on what its street lights will look like for the foreseeable future.

Starting in 2011, the city spent two years lobbying for a new state law that would let municipalities own their streetlights, rather than lease them from Central Maine Power. Then, it took nearly four more years for the Maine Public Utilities Commission to work out the rules for exactly how that would happen. But with all the Ts crossed and the Is dotted, the path to ownership was finally clear and, for the entire month of April, the city ran a pilot project at five locations to test three different LED light temperatures and three different fixture designs.

By owning the fixtures outright and switching to energy efficient LED bulbs, City Finance Director Greg L’Heureux has predicted South Portland can save about $212,000 per year in lease payments to CMP, and up to $88,000 per year in electric delivery and supply costs.

Residents were encouraged on the city’s website, social media accounts and email newsletter, as well as in local newspapers, to visit each of the five test sites and provide feedback on which design and which brightness level they preferred.

In the end, in a city of more than 25,000 souls, 27 people weighed in.

“It’s not a huge amount of people,” Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach told city councilors at a May 8 workshop meeting. “But what we heard from our contractors was, they were really impressed with the turnout we had with our survey, because Falmouth had three people, or something like that. So, that was considered good.”

Those who took the survey preferred the Acuity brand light fixtures over the Cree or Eaton company styles, 5-1-1, while three survey respondents admitted they could not tell the difference.

However, Rosenbach told the council she and other staffers had settled on the Cree fixture instead.

“By the numbers, they preferred the Acuity, but, really, it was a toss up,” she said. “The fact is there are some good things about both of them and I think that whichever we chose we couldn’t go wrong.

“We ended up choosing the Cree for a couple of different reasons, but the primary one was that the Cree fixtures that we chose are known for having the least amount of glare, and glare is the most significant issue people bring up when they talk about street lights.”

“We feel that overall we are going to have fewer complaints with the Cree, because of the way they are designed,” said Planning Director Tex Haeuser.

According to a May 4 memo from Rosenbach, Portland and Scarborough are also in the process of switching to Cree lights, while Falmouth is likely to select the Acuity fixtures.

L’Heureux said the Cree lights will cost about $53,000 more than the Acuity versions.

Few of the survey takers expressed a preference for the warmest of the lighting temperatures – 2,700 Kelvin.

On the Kelvin scale, higher numbers to 5,000 K are said to be “cool” and show as a bluish white, while lower numbers to 2,700 K are “warm,” appearing yellowish-white to red.

Of the two remaining options, opinion was split between the 3,000 K and 4,000 K bulbs, although, again, several residents admitted they could not discern any appreciable difference. The 3,000 K option was the pick along the two Broadway pilot locations, winning 7-3 between Ocean Street and Cottage Road, and 6-2 at the intersection with Westbrook Street. The 4,000 K lights, meanwhile, won out 5-2 on E Street and 6-1 on Pine Street.

According City Manager Scott Morelli, police, fire, bus, and public works departments also weighed in.

“Public works was mostly concerned with the glare (wanting the mid-color temperature) while the police response preferred the higher-color temperature (whiter),” he wrote in a memo to the council.

In the end, Rosenbach said, staff elected to go with the 3,000 K lights.

Asked by Councilor Kate Lewis if, as part of the project, the city will replace any of the 391 street lights it asked CMP to turn off between 2010 and 2011, L’Heureux said, “We are going to focus primarily on replacement of existing (lights) as the primary objective.”

L’Heureux said the city’s lighting consultant, Marylandbased RealTerm Energy, will provide some guidance on replacing lights dimmed in the past. However, the city won’t know where it stands until all of the current bulbs – many of which are as much as 30 years old – are switched out for LED lights, he said.

“People may feel more comfortable with the new lights,” L’Heureux said. “The new lights are going to be producing at a greater efficiency and you are probably going to have brighter neighborhoods just as a result of that.”

The city council unanimously endorsed the staff recommendation of 3,000 K bulbs and Cree fixtures. However, based on a resident recommendation, Councilors Eben Rose and Adrian Dowling said they would like to see options presented before any final council vote for the 2,700 K bulbs in some areas of the city.

George Corey of Franklin Terrace has repeatedly cited a 2016 American Medical Association study on the “Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting.” That report noted that higher Kelvin temperature LED lights are “five times more powerful” in influencing human sleep patterns than traditional high pressure sodium lights. This, according to the association, “is associated with reduced sleep time, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, nighttime awakenings, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity.”

Corey asked that the city consider installing 2,700 K bulbs in the residential neighborhoods and leave the 3,000 K lights to the main thoroughfares.

Meanwhile, L’Heureux stressed repeatedly during the May 8 presentation that, “We are still at the very beginning of the process.”

The next step, he said, will be for RealTerm to enter into a design phase of South Portland’s lighting grid. After that, he said, the firm will conduct an investment grade audit to determine precisely how much it will cost to install the selected lighting options.

“Once that is done, that will come back to you for approval of the actual retrofit of all the fixtures,” L’Heureux told councilors.

The city council voted unanimously in October 2016 to hire RealTerm over three other vendors, paying $25,000 to have the firm conduct an initial costs analysis and return on investment study of the street light upgrade.

At its April 17 meeting, the council authorized spending up to $216,110 to buy out of the CMP lease. Documents relative to that vote pegged the number of lights in question at 1,750. However, other estimates provided by the city have ranged from 1,600 in October 2016, to 1,900 at the May 8 meeting.

The proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes money for the CMP buy-out. Meanwhile, the city’s capital improvement budget for the current year included $200,000 to do the actual retrofit.

However, as L’Heureux noted, nothing is final yet and, indeed, costs may trend higher. At the May 8 meeting, Dowling said labor costs to effect the changeover will be more than initially presumed, “because we now know you need union employees from two different crafts to change a light bulb.”

“There’s probably a joke in there somewhere,” he said.

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