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LEDs take over street lights in Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- When approaching Worthington on Interstate 90, drivers have noted the city doesn't quite have the same golden glow it once radiated.

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LED street lights illuminate Grand Avenue in Worthington. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - When approaching Worthington on Interstate 90, drivers have noted the city doesn't quite have the same golden glow it once radiated.  

Most of the city is no longer covered in an orange-yellow hue every night. And with the city's transition from old, light-polluting street lights to modern LED lights, more Worthington residents than ever can once again see the stars from their porch.

Worthington Public Utilities (WPU) installed 620 LEDs onto city street lights this year. Next year, WPU will replace another 550 bulbs. Save for a few decorative fixtures on 10th Street, the entire city will be LED-lit by late 2018.

The focused, white light of the LEDs dramatically increases visibility over the orange-yellow glow of the high-pressure sodium bulbs. As all of the light is focused on the road, roads are much brighter, while everything else isn't affected by excess light.

"They don’t light anything but the road - they’re extremely directional," said Pat Demuth, WPU electric superintendent. "The light goes where they’re shining. It’s like a laser."

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High-pressure sodium bulbs are being phased out in every city across the country. As they spread light inefficiently, the bulbs use far more energy than their LED counterparts.

The energy-efficient LEDs have already made an impact. In January 2008, the city had 1,679 light fixtures, emitting a total of 358,180 watts. Since then, the number of fixtures has increased 17 percent, but the total wattage has fallen to 220,403, a 38 percent decrease.

WPU had its eyes on LEDs for a long time, but it didn't become economically feasible to implement them until a few years ago when their price dropped to a new low.

"Then it got to the point where it was cost-effective from an energy efficiency standpoint," said Scott Hain, WPU general manager. "We’re at a point where we can do a wholesale change-out, take out existing working lamps and replace them with LEDs."

The first LED street lights were installed on Minnesota 60 after the road was redone in 2013. From there, WPU replaced every dead bulb with an LED, then focused on lighting major roads such as Oxford Street and Humiston Avenue before tackling residential areas. In addition to replacing old bulbs, WPU installed brand new street lights on unlit roads where new developments warrant them, such as North Crailsheim Road near the new gymnastics facility.

LEDs are much more reliable, too. A substantial breeze or strong vibration could ruin the fragile filament in the old bulbs, which caused a headache for WPU workers.

"We would replace a lot of them, and you’re talking $15 between purchasing a new bulb and recycling the old one," Hain said.

Demuth said the LEDs are guaranteed to last 80,000 hours, but often last 100-120,000 hours.  

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"We used to set entire Fridays aside for guys to go fix the broken streetlights," Demuth said. "Now we go out and replace two or three a month of the remaining old bulbs."

The increased efficiency and durability will eventually translate to a decrease in taxes for Worthington residents. Once the lights pay for themselves in few years, the monthly street light charge could be reduced, as the city’s total wattage will be extremely low.

Hain said the response from residents was mostly positive.

"A lot of them like that the roadway seems a lot brighter, and they like the color rendition," Hain said. "The only complaints I’ve heard kind of revolve around the fact that it looks dark around the neighborhood. And that's because these are street lights, and they do just that - light the street."

One can’t make everyone happy, but Hain is happy the new lights better portray real colors, rather than cover everything with a yellow hue. He’ll never forget when he walked outside to see that the door on his vehicle was destroyed. A passerby told Hain a yellow pickup truck had backed into his red car.

"So I’m going around looking around for a yellow pickup, then I see a white pickup in the high school parking lot with red paint all over the bumper," Hain said.

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Pictured is a map of the city's lights. Green dots are LED lights and red are old high-pressure sodium lights. (Special to The Globe)

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