Olympia may see LED streetlights

Staff writerMay 6, 2013 

Thousands of Olympia streetlights could be converted from the traditional yellowish, high-pressure sodium lights to whiter, energy-saving LED lamps, in a project estimated to cost nearly $4 million.

The Olympia City Council will consider funding the project Tuesday at a price tag of $3,859,382. The streetlights themselves will cost about $2.5 million, but the overall project includes new heating/cooling systems at two city-owned buildings, The Olympia Center and the Olympia Timberland Regional Library building. Those were included to allow the city to obtain a $500,000 state grant for the project.

If the council approves the project, streetlight replacement likely will begin in August and be finished by the end of the year or early next year, said Mark Russell, assistant city engineer. The city would contract with the state Department of Enterprise Services to manage the project and hire its own contractor to install the lamps. Russell said that means the project’s price will be locked in.

Olympia’s Public Works Department is making a case for the new lights, saying the energy savings from the LED lights will eventually pay for the cost of the new lights. City staff proposes replacing 3,200 city-owned streetlights, which make up most of the city’s streetlights, according to a city staff report. Puget Sound Energy owns the other 1,300 streetlights in Olympia.

LED streetlights are expected to last for 20 years, compared with three to five years for the current lights, said Randy Wesselman, transportation, engineering and planning manager for the city. They use an average of 50 percent to 60 percent less energy, according to the city. That’s about $174,000 per year in energy savings and another $10,000 to $15,000 in savings from not having to maintain the street lights, Russell said.

“This project will pay for itself in about 10 years,” he said.

Wesselman said the city receives calls about streetlights being out on a weekly basis.

LED lights cast a whiter, clearer light than current lamps. For example, if someone is standing under a light, “you can actually see the color of their jacket” instead of a shadow, Russell said.

Olympia also would receive a $375,331 reimbursement from Puget Sound Energy for the project. The city is proposing to borrow $1.7 million, part of a bond sale of up to $9 million that the council could approve Tuesday. The council gave preliminary approval to the debt last month.

City Manager Steve Hall told the council last month that this Tuesday’s meeting would include a statement about the city’s bond indebtedness because “we are getting perilously close to our debt limit.”

State law dictates how much debt cities can carry. At the end of 2012, Olympia had about $24 million left it could issue in debt out of a $79.6 million cap, which doesn’t require voter approval. It had another $63.2 million it could borrow out of a $132.7 million limit in voter-approved debt.

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