Meadville completes LED lighting upgrades

Mike Crowley, The Meadville Tribune, Pa.
·3 min read

Feb. 28—The completion of recent upgrades to city-owned infrastructure has residents and visitors alike seeing Meadville in a new light — 258 new lights, to be exact.

City Manager Andy Walker announced this week that all city-owned outdoor lighting had been converted to energy efficient LED bulbs. Most of the converted fixtures are "gas lamppost"-style lights such as those located along the Chestnut Street, Park Avenue and North Street corridors.

The $55,000 cost of the project was offset by a $17,350 grant from the Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, a Johnstown-based nonprofit that administers nearly 700 regional charitable funds.

Walker said the upgrade will produce multiple benefits for the city.

"Downtown streets and city parks are more brightly lit, and it shrinks Meadville's greenhouse gas footprint, which is good for the environment," he said. "In addition, the reduction to the City's streetlight electric bill is a welcome change to city operating expenses, and we estimate that the new bulbs will have paid for themselves in less than a year and a half."

The city's lighting energy consumption has already been decreased 79 percent with the shift from metal halide and high-pressure sodium bulbs to LEDs, according to Walker. The energy saved would be enough to power 12 houses for a year. Not only do the new bulbs require less maintenance, he added, they mean annual savings of about $8,500 and an annual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 135 acres of forest in a year.

Most of the actual bulb swapping took place in August and September after the city requested a COVID-related extension for the grant, according to Walker. When possible, the old bulbs were recycled, he added.

The jury is still out on how people feel about the new bulbs. Walker said he hadn't heard any feedback on the downtown lighting, but that a limited number of previous conversions had been well-received.

"I think people like the quality of the light. Sometimes the brightness takes some getting used to," Walker said. "I'd call it a cleaner or crisper light that I happen to like the aesthetics of."

Walker estimated that the conversions required nearly 260 hours of staff time to complete with another 50 hours spent on grant completion and project management. The labor cost was not factored into 1.5 years he estimated it would take for the bulbs to generate savings equivalent to their cost.

The conversion project did not involve the nearly 1,100 Penelec-owned street lights spread throughout the city. A small percentage of these "cobra head"-style fixtures have been replaced, according to Walker, and a team of Allegheny College students is expected to explore the economic feasibility of additional replacements over the summer.

Savings generated by these conversions are likely to be significantly less lucrative today than they would have been a few years ago, according to Walker. The rates the city pays for them are set by the state Public Utility Commission and they have increased in recent years. For 2021, the city budgeted $155,000 to pay for the Penelec-owned lights.

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.