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Cost casts shadow over city¡¯s look at LED lamps
Though city staff explored installing light-emitting diode lamps, known as LED, to cut energy costs, officials said they can¡¯t hold a candle to current fixtures when it comes to street lighting.

LED bulbs, known for long life and efficiency, are gaining popularity in household and municipal markets alike in products such as Christmas tree lights and traffic signals.

The Columbia City Council and Columbia Water and Light staff have been mulling the idea of replacing the current high-pressurized sodium lights, or HPS, with LEDs, but Water and Light Director Kraig Kahler said that is not the way to go.

"You see LEDs in taillights and traffic lights, and they are good in a low-power application," Kahler said. "When you try to scale them to street lights, we don¡¯t get the performance we get with HPS. LEDs put out less light, and the HPS are great fixtures. They are workhorses. They¡¯re all over the city, inexpensive and put out more light per watt."

When Kahler presented the department¡¯s research at a council work session, he said the long life of LEDs is a selling point for many municipalities, but they are pricey. "What we¡¯re finding is that if there is grant money available, people are putting in LEDs," he said. "If they get a grant, they do it."

Department staff contacted Lumecon, a Michigan-based company, to look at LED costs. A 250-watt HPS bulb, used to light main roadways such as Broadway, costs about $129, lasts about nine years and puts out 27,500 lumens of light. A similar LED fixture would last about 22 years, but costs $1,371 for 156 watts and an output of 6,300 lumens.

"I think there¡¯s some promise of development down the road," Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said, "but it¡¯s not quite gotten there yet. We do have LED for traffic lights, and that seems to save money. The real point is we did ask Water and Light to look at how they could save about $100,000."

The department has been working to cut costs and recently updated its database of the city¡¯s 8,950 street lights, spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said. Staff is looking to replace the outdated, less-efficient mercury vapor bulbs with the HPS. Changing all of those would trim an additional $12,000 from the budget, Kahler estimated. That would leave about $11,000 to trim. Options include decreasing wattage in areas deemed over-lit and removing some street lights. Getting rid of either 500 100-watt HPS lights or 175 250-watt HPS lights with overhead charges would achieve the budget goal.

"That didn¡¯t seem like it got favorable response from council, so we¡¯ll need to wait until they give us specific directions," Kacprowicz said. "They haven¡¯t voted on it, so right now it¡¯s hard to tell one way or another."
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