ANCRAM—They are brighter and cheaper but are LEDs better?
The Central Hudson Gas and Electric Company recently contacted the Ancram Town Board to get permission to change all the town’s 31 street lights from sodium or mercury vapor lights to LEDs, short for light emitting diode.
The LED issue came up at the November 19 Town Board meeting.
Anita Carfora, business development associate with the utility, wrote in an email message that “Central Hudson was granted Public Service Commission approval to offer municipalities the option to lease high efficiency” LED street lights.
She said the LED street lights, owned and maintained by Central Hudson, will have nearly a 12-year life expectancy and offer “significant savings on maintenance and operating costs, while providing environmental benefits to municipalities and residents.
“Because LED street lights use less electricity, these fixtures will save your municipality on annual street light costs,” Ms. Carfora wrote.
Town Supervisor Art Bassin said at the meeting that the board could go with the option of having the street lights individually replaced with LEDs as they go out over the next 10 years at a cost of $142/light or the town could opt to have all the lights changed over now at one time at a cost of $3,500. The complete changeover would result in an annual cost savings of $2,300 to the town, he said.
But several residents urged the town to wait before flicking that switch.
Planning Board member and town resident Ann Rader told the board she read a New York Times article about people in Brooklyn having to wear sunglasses at night because their new LED street lights are so bright.
The article, “LED Streetlights in Brooklyn Are Saving Energy but Exhausting Residents,” by Matt A.V. Chaban, published March 23, 2015, quotes residents as likening their neighborhood lights to the “Night of the Living Dead,” “a prison yard” and “alien abductions.”
People have hung heavy dark drapes and tacked up black garbage bags over their windows to escape the light and get some sleep, according to the article.
A lighting designer quoted in the article called the phenomenon “light trespass.”
But people aren’t the only ones whose natural rhythms are disrupted. Ancram Conservation Advisory Council member and resident Kim Tripp, DO, PhD, told the board that nocturnal creatures interpret the blue light emitted by LEDs as daylight.
An October 9, 2014 article by Sarah Zielinski at smithsonian.com, “The Potential Dark Side of Nobel-Winning LEDs: Pest Problems,” notes that “On average, the white LEDs attracted 48% more flying invertebrates than the sodium lamps,” according to a study by an entomologist and his colleague. In short, they attract more bugs.
Town resident Gerald Fultz, the town’s grant writer and a member of the town Financial Advisory Council member is also a data/research consultant in optics. Responding to the Central Hudson proposal in an email. he wrote, “There are at least three issues that need to be discussed and see the ‘light of day’ before we rush to comply with the desires of Central Hudson.”
Mr. Fultz noted the blue spectrum emitted by LEDs “very quickly degenerates night vision. So driving into Ancram in the dark the LED street lights would significantly diminish the ability to see in the dark.
“When you leave Ancram and the LED lighting, simply put you will not see as well at night when driving and that will persist for several minutes. You can get a sense of this by spending enough time outside at night to see the stars clearly; then shine a LED flashlight into your eyes. Even a starry night will look starless for several minutes. Your night vision has been cooked.”
This LED blue light transmission also “disintegrates melatonin,” making it difficult for some people to sleep. Mr. Fultz noted, “This is an emerging issue with computers and tablets” also.
He also touched on the LED transmission spectrum seeming “to negatively affect wildlife including migrating birds.”
“These issues with blue light have been common knowledge for years but are coming under much more scrutiny now,” he wrote.
Councilman Hugh Clark brought up the reference in the Town Comprehensive Plan under the Community Vision for the Town in 2030, which notes, “Concerns for the environment stimulate extensive use of alternative sources of energy, and we enjoy clean air and ‘dark skies.’”
He advised, “We do not want to go much above what we have now” in terms of light emissions.
Councilman Chris Thomas said that whatever changes are made to the street lights should be financed out of the lighting district line in the town’s budget. He also said the street lights “can be shielded.”
The town’s street lights are located mostly in and around the Ancram hamlet, with some also in Ancramdale. Only residents of the lighting district pay for these lights.
“This is either a really good idea or a really bad idea,” Supervisor Bassin said at the meeting. He later added in a follow-up phone call that the issue will be the subject of further discussion especially with lighting district residents and that Central Hudson would be asked to come and talk about it.
To contact Diane Valden email