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New London to consider brighter future with LED street lights

New London — Things may be getting a bit brighter in New London by the end of the year.

The Department of Public Works is developing a proposal to replace all of the city’s roughly 3,000 street lights with more efficient, brighter fixtures equipped with LEDs, or light-emitting diodes.

The conversion would mean more than just brighter streets. The city’s electricity consumption — and therefore its electric bill — would plummet at a time when electric rates are on the rise, Director of Public Works Tim Hanser said this week.

Hanser said the city's annual electricity usage is about 3 million kilowatt-hours, which currently costs about $550,000. Switching to energy-efficient LEDs would induce a 73 percent decrease in the city's electricity usage — to 820,000 kWh — and a 69 percent drop in its electric bill — to $170,000, Hanser said.

“It is a huge cost-savings to the city. There is a little bit of an upfront cost to the city, but it pays for itself quickly,” Hanser said Tuesday as a guest on Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio’s cable access television show. “The energy efficiency is just so much greater in the new technology, opposed to what we have currently.”

As the price of electric rates from Eversource Energy rises, the mayor said, it is more important than ever to reduce the amount of electricity the city uses.

“That is critical as utility rates are going up,” Finizio said. “Moving toward green technology that costs less and reduces our burden is, I think, a very smart approach.”

Hanser said he is still crunching some of the numbers, but expects the conversion will carry a gross price tag of just over $1 million, though various rebates would yield a net price of about $400,000. Once the new LED lights are operational, Hanser said, the program would pay for itself in about 13 months.

The change would also reduce maintenance costs, Hanser said. LEDs are expected to last 15 to 20 years, while high-pressure sodium vapor bulbs currently in use typically last three to five years, Hanser said.

“It’s really a no-brainer,” he said Thursday. “It’s a good opportunity for the city to find energy reductions while saving some money and providing better service to the residents.”

Hanser said he has been working with a company approved by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, based on a request for qualifications sent out last year by the organization. He said he plans to present the proposal to the City Council next month.

The LED street lights would reduce the city’s carbon emissions and are approved by the International Dark-Sky Association, a group that seeks to limit light pollution.

The LED lights would also give city streets a different tint at night. LED lighting provides a whiter light than the high-pressure sodium vapor bulbs in use now, which emit a sallow light.

Though LED technology has existed for decades, it was not until the mid-1990s that three scientists developed the ability to make blue and white LED light, a discovery for which they were awarded the 2014 Nobel prize in physics.

“Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps,” the Nobel committee noted in its announcement of the award.

Cities great and small have already begun the transition to LED street lights, including Boston, New York City, Seattle and San Jose, Calif. Locally, Waterford, Berlin and New Haven are each in different phases of the conversion.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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