The city of Berkeley plans to replace its existing streetlights with a more sustainable technology in 2014. Photo: Jeremy Brooks
The city of Berkeley plans to replace its existing streetlights with a more sustainable technology in 2014. Photo: Jeremy Brooks

Berkeley nights could have a slightly different hue next year if the city is successful in its plans to replace all 8,000 of its streetlights with LED fixtures.

The project would save money, improve lighting quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city.

LEDs are already being used in Albany, El Cerrito, Hayward, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Los Angeles and other cities around the state. Oakland is in the process of converting all its fixtures to LEDs, the city reported.

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council voted to allow the city manager to seek a $3.5 million loan from the state Energy Commission to cover the cost of swapping out its old high-pressure sodium and metal halide lamps with light emitting diode (LED) fixtures beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

The city expects to save more money than it will spend on loan repayment due to energy savings and PG&E incentives, according to a staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. Currently, it costs more than $600,000 annually to power the city’s streetlights.

According to the staff report, the lights also generate more than 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, which accounts for 13% of the city’s emissions. An LED conversion could reduce overall municipal emissions by 6.5%, according to the staff report.

The city-wide project must be completed next year for the city to be eligible for PG&E incentives. The city plans to release a call for bids to do the conversion this coming December.

According to the staff report, LEDs are a “proven alternative” to the city’s current streetlights because they are more efficient, last longer and produce better light “that renders truer colors.”

The city has already installed LED streetlights in a pilot program at the Berkeley Marina, and Telegraph Avenue lights are also slated to change. The city set aside $48,000 for those conversions in fiscal year 2012-13, according to a report from the Public Works Commission to the City Council earlier this year.

In late 2012, the city replaced 75 high-pressure sodium streetlights with LEDs at the Berkeley Marina, on University Avenue west of West Frontage Road, and on Marina Boulevard, Spinnaker Way and Seawall Drive, according to the city website. The city expects those lights to require virtually no maintenance for 15-20 years.

Lighting on Telegraph Avenue has been identified as an issue in need of improvement by the city: “Pedestrian lighting is inconsistent in the Southside and, in many locations, sparse. Most lighting in the neighborhood has been designed and placed to illuminate the streets for vehicles, rather than the sidewalks for pedestrians. Along Telegraph Avenue, street lights glare down a harsh, bright yellow light on pedestrians.” The city announced plans to improve lighting on Telegraph as part of its 2013 annual report.

The city began its investigation into the possibility of LED streetlights in 2012 with a council referral to the Public Works and Energy commissions. The City Council ultimately received a report back on those discussions in June 2013.

According to that report, “Savings from an LED streetlight conversion could fund new streetlights in the City.”

Tuesday night’s report, prepared by city Public Works director Andrew Clough, was more circumspect: “While the project may generate savings in excess of the debt service that could be used for other purposes, it is premature to program expenditures until the installation is complete and final cost and savings values are available.”

Read more from PG&E about its LED streetlight conversion program. Learn more on the city of Berkeley website about LED streetlights. Members of the public with comments on LED lighting can email or call Billi Romain at 510-981-7432.

Berkeley greenhouse gas emissions down 8% since 2000 (09.06.13)
Electric bike rental program coming to Berkeley in 2014 (08.26.13)
Streamlined permitting aims to cut solar costs (08.07.13)
‘You’re not with it if you’re not air drying your clothes!’ (07.18.13)
Berkeley to collect more plastics in curbside collections (07.10.13)
Big changes needed to meet 2020 emissions goals (11.13.12)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...