LEDs may light up harbor

A proposed purchase of $30,000 in light-emitting diode lights for one harbor mast light pole could save the city up to $6,200 per light pole annually. At Monday’s regular Homer City Council, the council introduced on first reading Ordinance 16-45, a sole-source contract to Puffin Electric to purchase 12 LED fixtures.

The city spends about $66,000 annually in electricity to run seven 150-foot light poles with 69 1,000-watt high-pressure sulfur lights. According to a memorandum by Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins, a cluster of 12 LED light fixtures would cost $6,733 a year in electricity to run compared to $13,000 for a cluster of 12 high-pressure sulfur lights. Hawkins calculated that initial capital cost of installing new LED lights would be paid back in about 4 years.

“Plenty of motivation to switch to something more efficient!” Hawkins wrote in his memo.

A whereas clause in the ordinance says that the Apack brand LED lights would be the best light replacement, and that as Puffin Electric is the only Apeck distributor, a sole-source contract would be required. The council substituted an ordinance with that whereas clause.

At the council’s Committee of the Whole, Hawkins spoke about the proposed new lights. Working with Puffin Electric, the city tested the Apack light next to the high-pressure sulfur lights. The LED lights measured similar in light output. The LEDs also can be aimed more accurately to reduce glare and light pollution, improving the dark sky, Hawkins wrote in his memo.

“I think it’s time to install these lights,” he told the council. “There are positive things that can be seen from making this change.”

In public comments on matters of the agenda, Spit business owner Nancy Hillstrand raised some concerns about the health effects of LEDs. She mentioned an American Medical Association report that said there could be problems with LED lighting with human health.

“I just ask that you look at all aspects of this health situation, not just the money saving,” she said.

That 2016 report, “Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED0 Community Lighting,” said that blue-point LEDs — LEDs that produce white light — can cause discomfort and disability glare. It also can disrupt sleep patterns and keep people from falling asleep. When Council member Heath Smith raised that point in the Committee of the Whole, Hawkins said he wanted harbor officers to stay awake while working night shifts at the harbor.

Puffin Electric project manager Bill Smith said that light color is a peripheral issue. Smith noted a response to the AMA study by the Lighting Institute of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“Basically they said the color of the light is incidental to the strength of the exposure and timing of the exposure,” Smith said.

Bill Smith is the father of Heath Smith. Heath Smith pulled the LED purchase ordinance from the consent agenda and recused himself from formal consideration of the ordinance when it came up on the council’s agenda because of the potential conflict of interest.

Bill Smith said the sleep-pattern disruption concerns also arise with another LED source: computer screens, tablet computers and flat-screen televisions, all of which use LEDs to back-light the screens. The AMA report cited that concern and the short-term effect of short wavelength, or blue, electric light sources on sleep patterns, particularly before bedtime.

Beyond the energy savings, Smith pointed out another cost savings: LED lights also have a longer lifespan than high-pressure sulfur lights, about 100,000 hours compared to 12,000 hours.

In his memo, Hawkins also said the high-pressure sulfur lights fixtures are 30 years old and will need replacement soon. The council considers the ordinance at its Sept. 12 regular meeting. There will be a public hearing as well. If the ordinance passes, it would only replace the lights and fixtures on the number 7 light pole.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.