City lights might get softer glow

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photoWhen residents were asked to choose between two types of light-emitting diode (LED) streetlamps installed on a test basis along Washington Street, near the intersection with Gee Street, they picked the ones with a yellowish tint.

Matt Coogan, Gloucester’s senior planner, said the city’s Department of Community Development only drew between 50 and 55 responses from residents when it sought input regarding which streetlights to choose for a $1 million-plus light replacement project.

But Coogan said that, of those who sounded off on the sample lights placed along upper Washington Street near Gee Avenue in October and still there as of last week, roughly 90 percent chose the 3,000-degree Kelvin lights over the brighter but harsher 4,000-degree version.

So the city is poised to order the softer lights, Coogan said, and has a financing plan in place that will show Gloucester as generating a net savings from nearly the time the lights are turned on next year.

Coogan reiterated that the project, in the works since the city acquired all of its nearly 2,800 streetlights for the grand sum of $1 from National Grid in October 2014, is being backed through a $240,000 Green Communities grant. 

City Council President Paul McGeary, whose Budget and Finance Committee backed the plan last week, also said that the financial incentives and reimbursements from National Grid for the more energy-efficient LED lights will total $210,000, trimming the city’s net cost to just over $900,000.

The lease/purchase borrowing agreement supported by the Budget and Finance Committee, due to come up for full council approval at the council’s Tuesday night meeting at City Hall, calls for financing the city’s cost over 10 years, at an annual bill, including interest, of $117,341.

The LED -- for “light emitting diode” — lights,  which do not require heating of a filament and are widely viewed as more efficient and longer lasting, are projected to generate an annual savings to the city of $137,495 off its current annual cost of more than $260,000.

“In theory we should be net positive,” said McGeary, who praised the administrations of both Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and former Mayor Carolyn Kirk for their steps toward seeing the project through.

“On top of that, it’s doing the right thing (environmentally), which is always nice,” McGeary added. “I think it helps us in being seen and certified as a green community, and it shows we’re serious about this stuff.”

Coogan said that, if the project gets the needed financial approvals at Tuesday’s council meeting, the city and contractor Siemens — a Germany-based based lighting and engineering company that’s been working with nine different Massachusetts communities over the past year — will need about six weeks to firm up the lighting order, then some eight weeks to complete the installation. That would make the target for completion sometime in March, he indicated.

The choice of lights came after a number of residents raised questions about an initial proposal to use 4,000-degree Kelvin lights. Among those residents were members of the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club, who raised concerns over excessive brightness killing views of the city’s night skies.

Coogan said further study showed that the harsher, brighter, bluer lights could also have a detrimental effect on the area’s wildlife, while the 3,000-degree lights — the ones with “the warmer, yellow tint,” he said — produced a truer light and should prove more effective.

Coogan said he wished more people had participated in the sampling survey, which actually gave residents choices of four lights, two at each degree level. But he said that for those who took an interest and offered input, the choice was clear.

“There were some different ideas,” he said, “but about 90 percent of them said ‘whatever you do, do the 3,000-degree lights,’ and that’s what we’re doing.”

Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.