Highly efficient light bulbs may not be popular in Minnesota’s Sixth District. But the LED has taken over Hollywood.
In 2009, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched the Los Angeles LED Street Lighting Energy and Efficiency Program. The plan: swap out over 140,000 street lights and replace them with highly efficient light-emitting diodes. The effort was the largest such street LED light replacement program in the world.
The project is a salient example of the benefits to biting the bullet on high upfront costs in exchange for big savings down the road. In addition to its environmental costs of 110,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide released annually, L.A.’s street lights cost the city $15 million each year. That amounted to between 10 and 38 percent of its utility bill. LEDs use less energy than traditional bulbs. They also last much longer. While a typical street lamp has a life of four to six years, LED lamps last 10 to 12 years. So switching also reduces maintenance and material costs for the city.
The replacement program cost an estimated $57 million over the four years. It was funded through a $40 million loan and $16 million in rebate funds from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as well as $3.5 million from the Street Lighting Maintenance Assessment Fund. After the loans are repaid through energy savings, the program is expected to save the city $10 million annually from reduced energy usage and maintenance.
Even NIMBYs (not in my back yard) are reportedly happy. Ed Ebrahimian, the director of the Bureau of Street Lighting for L.A. says that “we’ve received many positive comments, even from the Dark Skies Association” because of the reduced sky glow at night.
Since Los Angeles started the program, the practice of mass conversion to LED has been sweeping across the country as cities face environmental concerns as well as shrinking budgets. In 2012, Baltimore completed its conversion of 70,000 street lights, which saves roughly $2 million a year. Portland, Oregon, surprisingly late to the party, is launching a retrofit this year. Other major cities like San Francisco, San Antonio, and Seattle are looking into swapping street lights as well.
While the impact of one household switching to LEDs is small, the impact of many large metropolitan areas switching to LED lighting can be prodigious. As President Clinton, whose Clinton Climate Initiative worked to support the program in Los Angeles, said: “If every city followed the example of Los Angeles and reduced the electricity used by their street lights by 50 percent, it would be equivalent to eliminating over two and a half ... coal plants per year.”