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Shining Energy-saving LEDs on Utah Starry Nights

June 11, 2010 - 4:27pm


Utah is known for its magnificent night skies, where stargazers can catch a glimpse of constellations or a rogue shooting star. Now some rural towns have found a way to create even better views—and conserve energy.

This summer, thanks to an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) from the Utah State Energy Program worth over $1 million, 14 rural communities across the state are replacing streetlights with efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

About 2,500 streetlights will be replaced and could save the towns 20 percent to 50 percent on electricity bills.

“We put a lot of energy into trying to manage the demand side,” says Cathryn Collis, program manager for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), the nonprofit agency that spearheaded the grant application for the towns.  “And conservation is the cheapest new energy source.”

Plus, LEDs give off a softer, more even glow, which is more conducive while gazing up at the stars.  “They love the night sky with these lamps,” Cathryn adds. “It’s not so washed out.”

A joint effort

UAMPS is a nonprofit agency based in Salt Lake City that provides wholesale electricity to 52 community-owned power systems throughout the West, including towns in Utah.

The agency applied for the competitive EECBG grant on behalf of the 14 towns, including Eagle Mountain, located 40 miles outside Salt Lake City, and Hurricane, in the southwest part of the state.

“We looked at the impact to the people and the energy savings and, of course, the bottom line: the dollars saved,” says Jerriann Ernstsen, block grant program manager for the Utah State Energy Program.

Retrofitting 2,503 streetlights with LEDs will reduce energy use by an estimated 63 percent, or about 335,000,000 watts annually, save approximately $26,800 per year, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 37 percent for the state.

  • UAMPS purchased the LEDs from BetaLED, a division of Ruud Lighting, Inc. in Racine, Wis., which has seen a boost in business as cities tap into their Recovery Act funds to purchase energy-efficient fixtures for roadways, parking lots, and buildings. 

Ernstsen says collaboration was important for the towns because they typically have too small a staff to go after opportunities like this. “Sometimes their staff is a recorder, or they only a work one day,” she says.

Towns received anywhere from $33,000 to $270,000 to replace the streetlights, a task being undertaken by the towns’ municipals crews over the summer.

Better all around

LED lights save energy and money, but they also reduce light pollution, according to Utah Skies, a nonprofit astronomy organization.

“We are losing our heritage of starry nights,” according to the website. “[Misused] artificial light in the night sky threatens to destroy the spectacular views the heavens offer.”

NASA reports Utahans can catch a partial eclipse of the moon on June 26, a perfect night for those in the retrofitted towns to pull out their telescopes.