Monday, January 26, 2009

Street Lighting Again

When I blog about Montgomeryshire issues, I look for wider application. And today I've been involved in discussing two such issues - street lighting and wind farms (which will feature in my next post). This afternoon, spent an hour talking to the Chief Executive, plus the relevant portfolio holder and service manager at Powys County Council about street lighting. Powys has become the street lighting capital of the Council world - as famous as Tokyo and Vegas. The way it happened was not very smart, but there's no argument about it. Powys has become a street lighting laboratory. No good moan about it. We are where we are. I hope this pioneering spirit continues.

But first let us return to the beginning. In 2007 (or thereabouts) the cost of electricity was flying (why is a separate question) and councillors thought it would be a sensible idea to turn off one third of its street lights - and an appropriate budget was set. Personally, I was not opposed to that. But a councillor insisted there should be consultation. It took several months. The price of this consultation was delay. And by the time the consultation was over, the only way to meet the budget was to turn off two thirds of the lights instead of one third. And that's what the councillors did. No more consultation. They just did it - and consulted later. A review of what they did is now underway. Enough sparks flew to launch an Olympic Games. And one can understand the reluctance to consult again, because only a handful of community councils responded first time round. But enough of history. Where to go now.

For some time the Council's street lighting officers have been considering replacing existing lights with LED arrays. There's been one shining down on Builth Wells for a while. They run on 25% of the electricity needed to run existing street lights - green, economical and common sense. But it costs over £100 to convert each one, and around £400 to buy each new one. As it must, the Council is researching the best product and provider. Now, with budgets pip-squeakingly squeezed, its going to be difficult to find the upfront cost. But I'm told that the payback period is only 18 months. There's got to be a way of doing this - either with deferring some other investment for a year, or timing the change over two years. And when the running costs are quartered it will be possible to turn some lights back on again. In 10 years time, I reckon all street lights will be LED arrays. I wonder whether the Powys Pioneers will be the first to reach this state.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Powys County Council should be applauded for its decision to turn off street lights despite its disastrous PR exercise. Powys is not good at consulting the public, but this is another topic for your blog. The message here is the contribution Powys is making to preventing light pollution. On arriving Montgomeryshire from a remoter part of Wales I was shocked that the night sky was so blurred. New large housing estate developments in particular had impacted on the enjoyment of the night sky. Contrary to popular belief, street lighting does not make it easier to see at night. The human eye is more comfortable in lower, more even light levels, so lower wattage and better light direction is more important. Research elsewhere suggests that crime does not increase if street lights are switched off although the perception of crime will increase. It has been estimated that 60% of the nation's children can no longer watch the night sky. "It is a feeble light that reaches from the starry sky. But what would human thought have achieved if we could not see the stars?" (Jean Perrin 18th century physicist). Powys is right to look at alternatives as there are options for both economical/efficient lighting AND which doesn't impact on the night sky. It is a shame that Mr Kerr failed to properly explain to the public that turning off street lights was a lot more than saving money. Unfortunately Mr Kerr's naval upbringing makes it difficult for Powys to turn round the oil tanker when it has been launched. When will this career naval officer realise that he should steer a proper course for all new Council initatives. Paying lip-service to proper consultation is his first and seemingly enduring error if other projects/initiatives are anything to go by.

Frank H Little said...

But what's the MTBF of a LED array?

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - there are a surprising number of people who support a reduction in the amount of street lighting. But you are correct in that the consultation exercise was hopelessly ineffective, and there was almost no response. So while the Council can claim to have consulted, in practice it was not meaningful. I don't know whether this was the Chief Exec's fault.

Frank - Sorry but I do not know what MTBF stands for.

Welshman in DC metroland said...

Frank: something I wondered In re LED arrays that have replaced rear lights on some cars. The LEDs might last for the lifetime of the car, but the electronics driving the LEDs might be less fortunate. So it's a compound probability - I suspect the electronics will fail before the LEDs. I suspect the same will be the case for street lighting arrays - I suggest we take this issue up with HAL 9000, but preferably not the HAL 9000 (or even what's left of it) on board the spaceship Discovery One, bound for Jupiter (2001: A Space Odyssey)).

What's in a name - DC metro Welshman said...

Glyn: mean time between failures - I suspect, but don't know, that the mean time between you drinking those strange waters and Matt Withers writing it up in the WOS is substantially less than the probability that the global warming alarmists are correct. But what does this 'have to do with the price of fish' blah blah. There was a guy driving one of those airport shuttles who had a blah blah cell phone, when it rang it literally said "Blah blah", and another thing ...