Cheaper, brighter LED streetlights are coming soon to cities, towns and villages served by the Omaha Public Power District — as soon as January.
OPPD management updated the utility’s board Tuesday about a five-year replacement plan for the roughly 100,000 streetlights the district maintains in 13 counties.
The new lights are expected to save as much as 25 percent in costs to power them over traditional high-pressure sodium streetlights.
Because the rollout of the new lights is gradual, the savings will start smaller — 5 percent in the first year. Within five years, customers, mainly local governments, should save about 25 percent compared to what they pay now to power the streetlights.
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In most cases, including in Omaha, OPPD owns the streetlights. Cities and towns pay for the electricity to power them.
OPPD also will at least cover its costs when it comes to replacing the lights: The majority of the savings on the OPPD side will come from reduced maintenance costs. LED streetlights typically last 15 to 20 years instead of the 5 years for high-pressure sodium lights that the utility now uses, OPPD says. LEDs require fewer fixes from OPPD contractors and crews.
The OPPD board approved the LED switch this spring. The shift will cost the utility about $39 million over five years but save streetlight customers and those who pay local taxes about $116.5 million over 20 years, officials said.
The new lights are expected to use about 39 million fewer kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is part of why OPPD will lose revenue under the plan.
The district’s chief financial officer, Javier Fernandez, told the board that it was worth freeing up those funds for customers, a benefit, he said, of public power.
A handful of OPPD board members, including Rick Yoder, asked Fernandez about whether the new, lower rates would cover OPPD’s costs. He said they would.
“Our crews are going to touch these poles maybe three times less,” Fernandez said. “We won’t realize those (savings) right away; our customers won’t realize those right away.”
But customers will see a difference within 5 years, he said, and OPPD will over 15 to 20 years.
The utility plans to replace most of its traditional streetlights, about 60 percent, as they fail. OPPD will respond to calls and reports of streetlights out by replacing fixtures instead of bulbs.
After about two years of replacing individual fixtures, the utility will go ahead and replace the lights of whole sections of neighborhoods to preserve consistent lighting in places where a cluster of streetlights have failed.
The human eye perceives LED streetlights as brighter than sodium lights because people can perceive more colors under white LED light than under the yellower hue of older lights.
OPPD chose a lower-wattage, 100-watt light for most residential streets, those not along major roadways that have to be lit brighter under U.S. Department of Transportation rules.
They chose the bulb to avoid the disruption to circadian rhythms and wildlife complained about in some cities, said Todd McLochlin, OPPD’s manager of utilities and right-of-way coordination.
The district tried the new LED lights in several spots across the city as part of a recent pilot program. Officials say they received few complaints.
Since LED bulbs dim as they age out of their useful life instead of go out, OPPD says it plans to track installation dates using mapping software and check and replace the lights on time.