Energy Efficiency

OPPD details plans for five-year LED streetlight project

The Omaha Public Power District, starting late this year or early next, plans to embark upon a five-year, $39 million project to switch out nearly 100,000 high-pressure sodium streetlights in its service area with brighter, energy efficient LED lights, a move aimed at saving customers energy and money while reducing outages and maintenance costs.

OPPD has provided streetlighting to its customers since it was formed in 1946, said Steve Fanslau, its director of customer service, government and infrastructure. Over the years styles and technologies have changed, with the shift to LEDs picking up steam in recent years in many US cities and towns.

OPPD owns most of the 98,744 streetlights along roads and highways in its service area. The Nebraska public power utility has 298 streetlight customers ranging from small towns to the Nebraska Department of Transportation. In all, OPPD currently has 369,500 customers, said Jodi Baker, a media specialist with OPPD.

In the planning for nearly a decade, the move to LEDs nevertheless was an easy choice for OPPD, said Todd McLochlin, its lead utility coordinator.

LEDs are brighter, require less maintenance and last four times longer - 15 to 20 years as opposed to five years - than the average high-pressure sodium fixtures, he said Thursday.

"This is a green effort, and we're reducing our carbon footprint," he said. Streetlighting bills on average are estimated to decrease by about 25% for OPPD streetlight customers, representing a total annual savings of millions of dollars.

LED streetlights have not been without controversy, however.

Two years ago, the American Medical Association warned that communities should be careful in selecting among LED lighting options to minimize potential harmful human and environmental effects.

"Despite the energy efficiency benefits, some LED lights are harmful when used as street lighting," AMA board member Maya Babu said at the time.

In particular, the AMA recommended an intensity threshold for optimal LED lighting that minimizes blue-rich light that appears white to the naked eye. Such an effect can create worse nighttime glare than conventional lighting that emits an amber-toned light, it said, and decrease visual acuity and safety.

McLochlin said the industry has resolved those concerns since then. OPPD has installed some pilot projects in neighborhoods across the Omaha metro area to determine, in part, if there are any glare issues.

Those issues will be taken into account in its project specifications when OPPD goes out for bid later this year.

Aside from addressing the glare issue, OPPD has discovered in the pilots that there is considerably less maintenance with LED lights.

"The outage rate is significantly less" than with conventional lighting, Fanslau noted.

Over the coming months, OPPD intends to work with its customers to "to evaluate what they need in technology and capabilities of these lights in the future," McLochlin said. That feedback will be analyzed and incorporated into the bid specifications.

Another benefit of LED lights, OPPD said, is that when they fail, they dim as opposed to going completely dark.

Although the process of working with customers is ongoing, McLochlin said OPPD has received no negative feedback so far about the project.

The utility offered details about the project during committee meetings for the OPPD Board of Directors held during the week of March 12.