City set to switch light bulbs to LED

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Right, a streetlight on Spokane Avenue. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

Whitefish is looking to convert its street lights to LED bulbs. Once all are the bulbs in the city are replaced, it’s a move that could save the city upwards of $283,000 over 10 years.

Whitefish currently has 982 light bulbs in its street lights throughout the commercial and residential districts of the city. Those lights currently use high pressure sodium bulbs, but switching to LED bulbs could save the city thousands of dollars in energy and replacement costs, according to a plan brought forward by the city’s Climate Action Plan committee.

City Council last week approved beginning the replacement process with the 187 lights in its commercial district and along Highway 93 through downtown.

Councilor Richard Hildner praised the idea, which sprang from the city’s draft Climate Action Plan expected to be finalized this spring.

“Things area already coming to fruition,” he said. “It’s shedding daylight ­— or street light — on the results of that.”

The total cost to replace the 187 lights is $10,885 after an expected rebate of $18,700 from Flathead Electric Co-op. The annual energy savings for the lights is estimated at about $8,000.

Public Works Director Craig Workman said FEC has been offering a commercial lighting rebate and lights that see the greatest reduction in energy consumption are currently eligible for a rebate of $100 per fixture, but that amount is excepted to decrease dramatically later this year. It will be the most advantageous for the city to complete the LED upgrades of the 187 lights by the end of June.

“The program provides incentives when certain fixtures and/or bulbs are replaced with more efficient ones,” he said. “However, we have been informed that changes are pending in this program which will significantly reduce the rebate values.”

Eighteen of the city lights have already been upgraded to the new LED fixtures in locations north and east of the Whitefish Community Library. Concerns in the past have been raised about LED lights appearing too bright and cold in color. However, changes in technology have allowed for new LED lights to have a softer and more warm appearance, the city notes.

Streetlights in 2016 accounted for 6 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. With that in mind, one of the major recommendations of the Climate Action Plan is to convert the existing HPS streetlight system to LED, which should reduce the emissions and save the city money, according to Workman.

On average, HPS bulbs last four years and use between $15 and $50 worth of electricity annually, according to the city. While LED lights cost slightly more, they last more than 10 years and use between $7 and $17 worth of electricity annually.

The energy savings once all the bulbs are converted to LED for 10 years is estimated at $185,000. The savings in labor — because an LED light lasts an average of 10 years while a high pressure sodium bulb only lasts about four — equals to about $97,0000 over 10 years.

Based upon the success of the first phase of the replacement, Workman said the Public Works department plans to work toward budgeting for upgrade of the remaining 795 lights in fiscal year 2019.

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