By Marit Gookin, Staff Writer
If all goes well, the streets of Lander are soon going to be a little bit better lit; the city is applying for a $500,000 grant from the federal government to upgrade its streetlight system to be all-LED (light-emitting diode). According to Lander Community Development Coordinator Anne Even, some of Lander’s current street lights are utilizing some very old technology, including mercury vapor lights. The city is hoping to use this grant funding to update its lighting system, bringing LED technology to Lander’s streets.
Although the city of Lander has experimented with a few LED street lights in certain locations already, as of now only one community in Wyoming has completely updated its street lights to LED: the town of Pinedale, which updated its lights last fall. Even said that as part of the process of considering making the change itself, the city of Lander has been in touch with Pinedale about how its update went and what issues it has faced.
One highlight for Pinedale citizens, Even said, was that updating the light system gave the town a chance to add covers that help direct light from the street lamps down onto the street.
“Lighting is kind of moving that direction,” commented Even. “It keeps the light on the streets, versus shining into living rooms.” These light covers don’t only help focus the light on the street; they also keep it from radiating up into the night sky, meaning they reduce light pollution and increase the ability of people to see the stars from their own yard or porch.
Light pollution is an issue in many parts of the world, and people from more urban areas sometimes drive for hours or otherwise go out of their way just to reach a place where they can see the stars. In Wyoming, most people are lucky enough to be able to see the night sky clearly from the comfort of their own home – and the city of Lander hopes to keep it that way for its residents. Sinks Canyon State Park, which has been working toward Dark Sky certification, has been monitoring light pollution from Lander recently and shared that data with the city so it could work on implementing Dark Sky practices itself. Even clarified that as of right now, the city doesn’t intend to pursue Dark Sky certification; like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the city can utilize some of these concepts and guidelines without taking on the extra burden and expense of trying to apply for official certification.
The new street lights would also give the city a chance to make sure that every block in town is appropriately well-lit, increasing what Even described as “light equity.” As the city has grown and its lighting has aged, some street lights have been placed in ways that don’t light the streets as well as they could, and some have grown dimmer over time. Some of the street lights in town are actually owned by Rocky Mountain Power, so the city intends to cooperate with it to make these updates – and hopes to utilize the expertise of its employees who have worked with LED lights in Utah, where LED street lights are more common than they are in Wyoming.
“They can help provide some guidance back, too … we can learn from others,” Even said.
Not every block needs the same amount of lighting; residential neighborhoods don’t need to be as well-lit at 3 a.m. as Main Street. LED lights tend to be brighter than other kinds of lights, also, so the city has used its existing handful of LED street lights to figure out how to adjust how much wattage is needed to light the street. “It’s what’s needed in the space instead of wattage,” Even explained.
A common remark in Lander about projects such as this one is that the city is focusing its resources in the wrong area: Many people in Lander are very concerned about its streets, for example, and it is a common sentiment that other major projects distract from things like repairing streets. However, one of the major roadblocks faced by street and water and sewer repairs recently isn’t focus or manpower but supplies; manufactured parts have been hard to come by for some time now, and the city, like auto businesses, often has to stop and wait on parts before it can proceed.
Some people also view grants skeptically. In previous city council meetings, it has been remarked that grants are often largely funded by taxpayer dollars – meaning that while applying for a grant may save the city money, that money is coming out of the pockets of citizens regardless. Others feel that, since the money for a grant has already been collected in taxes, donations and otherwise, not applying for grant funding doesn’t do anything to reduce those taxes but simply prevents that money from coming back to and benefitting the citizens of Lander.
The city is not going to save money by switching its light system over, only save energy expenditure; Even explained that the city is charged per light, not by the amount of energy demand from the lights. Even so, LED lights have other benefits such as increased brightness and longevity, as well as the opportunity to make updates to things such as light placement and directional covers.