The Omaha Public Power District is moving ahead more quickly than it had originally planned with its five-year, $39 million program to replace nearly 100,000 sodium vapor streetlights with LED fixtures.
OPPD announced its LED replacement program in March 2018, but falling prices prompted the utility to speed up the pace of the program.
OPPD had been watching LED fixture prices for about eight years. But when the utility put out bids for those fixtures and they came back “considerably less” than expected, OPPD decided to take advantage of the low prices, Todd McLochlin, manager of utilities and right of way coordination at OPPD, said.
The utility was going to install LEDs as old fixtures burned up, but the low prices are allowing OPPD to do whole stretches of roads rather than working in piecemeal fashion.
In the first two or three years of the five-year program, OPPD expects the replacement of streetlights along all major roads to be completed. “We are doing the busier roads end to end,” which also is better from a safety and traffic disruption point of view, McLochlin said.
After that, crews that had been working on major roads will look for areas where replacements are near completion and infill new fixtures where needed.
OPPD estimated it would replace about 20,000 fixtures in each of the first three years, but the work is proceeding rapidly. Since February, OPPD has replaced 4,800 fixtures and expects to have more than 20,000 fixtures replaced by the end of the year. The total cost of the program could be lower as well, but OPPD did not have a revised estimate.
There are 98,744 streetlights illuminating the roads and highways of OPPD’s 13 county service territory. By converting streetlights to LED fixtures, OPPD expects those municipalities will see a 25% reduction in streetlight costs, according to The Wire, OPPD’s newsletter.
The cost savings will come from a combination of the higher efficiency of the LED lamps that make them cheaper to run and the longer lifespan of LEDs compared with the high-pressure sodium fixtures they are replacing. LEDs can last 15 to 20 years, compared with five years for a sodium fixture.
OPPD currently repairs about 11,000 customer-reported streetlight outages per year using three crews. The utility plans to increase those crews to a total of five to meet the higher volume of the LED replacements.
Another advantage of LED streetlights is that they do not fail all at once, but dim before they burn out.
Industry standards call for replacing a fixture after it falls to below 85% of its original illumination level. OPPD plans to keep track of the new fixtures by their installation dates, though McLochlin does not expect a flood of replacements to occur in 15 years. “There is always something that interferes with the ordinary lifespan of a fixture,” whether it is a fault of a lightning strike, he said.
OPPD has contracted out for the replacement work. After the LED replacement program is completed, OPPD expects that the utility’s basic maintenance crews will still have their hands full, doing routine maintenance and replacements.
So far, municipalities that are OPPD streetlight customers have submitted priority lists of major roads in their cities and towns that crews should target for replacement. OPPD representatives have been in touch with municipalities, counties and other streetlight customers since September 2018 and briefed those customers on the transition process.
One smaller town in OPPD’s territory, Blair, Neb., had all its streetlights switched to LEDs under a pilot program funded by the Department of Energy. Those lights were studied by OPPD as part of an eight-year research project OPPD conducted.
“We installed numerous fixture types in our metro communities, which served as pilot areas, so we could observe their functionality,” said Steve Fanslau, director of customer service and government infrastructure at OPPD. “It also gave our customers and public officials, partners, the chance to visit these areas and provide feedback.”
McLochlin said OPPD is looking for ways to make LED replacements as efficient as possible. For instance, in smaller towns with fewer streetlights, it makes sense to replace all the fixtures rather than travel to replace just one.
“We viewed this as an opportunity to save the entire community money,” McLochlin said. “Taxpayers and rate payers are the same people to us,” Fanslau said.