By Larke Turnbull

Ever wonder if LED light bulbs area good investment? Look no further than the City of Stratford.

LED streetlights installed a few years ago have brought an annual savings of about $200,000.

The new lights were installed in 2014-16 as a way of reducing electricity costs, said Ed Dujlovic, Stratford’s Director of Infrastructure and Development Services.

“We really didn’t talk about greenhouse gases,” he said, noting most electricity in Ontario is now either hydro electric or nuclear.

“There’s very little burning going on.  There’s not a lot of greenhouse gases you’re saving by using less electricity. The real driver behind it was to reduce our costs because they were going up.”

In the first year after all the new lights were installed, the city saw a 40 per cent reduction in kilowatt-hour usage. That translates into a saving of $136,000 on electricity, he said.

But there’s more.

“We’ve also seen a huge reduction in our maintenance costs because with the older lights we had to change out bulbs (and do other work) and with all the newer lights we don’t have to do that anymore.”

The reduction in maintenance costs brought the total annual savings on streetlights to about $200,000, he said.

The LED bulbs do need changing occasionally, because the light output reduces over time. Still, they last about 20 years.

Initial installation of the lights cost $1.27 million, including a provincial government grant of  $238,430.

“Next time there’s a changeover we’ll probably do it over a couple of years,” he said, adding that it will be less expensive because only the light heads will have to be changed. The initial changeover cost more because of other work that needed to be done, such as replacing old wiring and fixtures that had to be updated.

The LED lights are paying for themselves, he said, noting they’re meeting the payback target of six to seven years.

The technology is getting better every day, lights are lasting longer and they’re coming down in price from where they were even two or three years ago.

He’s expecting that soon the city will be able to install LED bulbs in its decorative lighting as well. Initially only the 4,200 old “cobra head” streetlights – those on most city streets – were changed, because bulbs for the 1,400 decorative fixtures were much more expensive.

That might change before long.

“The technology is getting better every day, lights are lasting longer and they’re coming down in price from where they were even two or three years ago.” Dujlovic said. “There’s some significant cost savings, to the point where some of the decorative lighting is looking like it could be almost cost effective to do.”

Certainly,  as bulbs need to be changed in decorative fixtures, he said, LED will be considered for them too.

Other communities have had complaints about the LED streetlights, from some saying they’re too bright to others say they’re not bright enough.

Dujlovic has heard both.

“With the old high pressure sodium you had this glow, it would scatter light everywhere, whereas with this LED lighting, it’s very much focused down onto the ground.”

Some residents, for example, who have been used to having their front yards and porches lit up by the old bulbs, have said it seems darker now.

But the new lights aren’t casting more light into the sky, either, so there’s not as much “light pollution.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed at night that the glow over the city isn’t as bright as it used to be. This LED lighting, they call it dark sky compliant. It is a different type of light.”

Overall, he said, there were about a half dozen calls. “For something like that, that has an impact throughout the city, it’s not a lot of phone calls.”

Lights aren’t the only way the city is saving on electricity. Whenever motors are being replaced, for instance, electrical demand is considered and more efficient motors are installed.

This year, a five-year update on the city’s electricity management plan is being done. As well, Stratford, Perth County and other nearby municipalities have hired a Climate Change Coordinator to update a joint greenhouse gas management plan.

“Once that’s done, there will be public meetings on it.”