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Toledo councilmen want more LED street lights

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Three pockets of Toledo now have brighter, more efficient lighting, and city councilmen hope there’s more on the way.

City crews this summer finished installing LED bulbs in street lights at three targeted areas that served as pilot sites for the eventual upgrade of all 28,000 city lights owned by Toledo Edison to LED.

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Toledo Edison senior lineman Matt Miller in 2017 switches on the last of 200 LED fixtures installed in the old south end as part of the city's three pilot programs to upgrade street lighting.

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But the conversion isn’t cheap; replacing one high-pressure sodium lamp with an LED costs the city $344, said Paul Rasmusson, the city’s director of public service. That translates to more than $9.6 million to outfit the whole city.

It’s because of that high cost that officials say they aren’t rushing to switch out every street light, though it remains a goal for the future.

Mr. Rasmusson said the cost to upgrade is determined by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, and the $344 price tag is in place through November, 2019. He said he believes the cost will shrink after that because the commission will no longer consider light-emitting diode lights experimental technology.

“The pilots have shown us that it’s an amazing transition to neighborhoods with the lighting, the visibility, and the safety,” Mr. Rasmusson said. “At this point we know we’re going to move forward with LED lighting, but it doesn’t seem prudent until we know it will be a little more cost-effective.”

The pilot program included about 200 lights in the Old South End, 15 or 16 on Garden Estates Drive from Sylvania Avenue to Rose Garden Drive, and on Bancroft Street, between Maplewood Avenue and Collingwood Boulevard.

Toledo City Council members lauded the pilot program’s results, and several said they hoped they don’t have to wait until the end of 2019 to outfit more street lights with LED bulbs.

“This is the direction that the world is going toward,” Councilman Tyrone Riley said. “We need to be on that cutting edge. We want to be progressive.”

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority in 2016 offered to finance switching all city street lights to LED and allow the city to pay back the cost with the savings that come with cutting energy consumption. That prospect was put on hold when Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz took office in January, but Paul Toth, the port authority’s president and CEO, said the offer still stands.

“We’ve had some high-level discussions with the new administration and my understanding is they’re looking at three different trial areas,” Mr. Toth said. “We certainly are still standing by and are a willing partner to work with the city if this is something they want to do and it makes economic sense.”

He said the port authority would issue long-term bonds to pay for the upfront costs and allow the city to repay it over a 10 to 15-year period, depending on the cost savings.

Mr. Rasmusson said switching from the high-pressure sodium bulbs to LED could save the city up to 63 percent in energy costs in some areas, depending on what bulb wattage they’re working with. He is waiting on an inventory report from Toledo Edison so that he can more accurately calculate the city’s possible savings should the whole system convert to LED.

The push to upgrade Toledo’s street lights came to the forefront in 2016 when the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s Homies Union, a Toledo youth leadership program involved with the Historic South Initiative, advocated for modernized street lighting along the Broadway Street corridor.

Councilman Gary Johnson, who for a time lived along Broadway Street, said the pilot program’s efforts have made area residents feel safer and brought more business to the shops and restaurants in the neighborhood.

“From a safety standpoint, I think it’s done wonders,” he said.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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