Recently, Smith's department completed a solar energy upgrade program, using $260,000 the council authorized for rebates to those who installed solar roof panels. A total of 261 homeowners and a number of businesses took advantage of the offer and are now nearly free of the PG&E electric grid, gaining all the electricity they need from sunlight. A few have also purchased electric-powered automobiles, which means that sunpower is also charging those cars for gasoline-free driving. With the capital costs behind them, it's a win-win situation both for these residents and PG&E, which is burning that much less carbon-producing fossil fuel to feed those electric meters.
The street light program is even a bigger win. The new LED retrofit project will give the city an estimated 60% reduction in its electric bills while also reducing greenhouse gases by approximately 1,556 metric tons per year. Given these savings, it's no surprise that city officials are encouraging Ryan and Smith to move forward on obtaining the special 1% fixed interest loans available for these kinds of municipal projects. Ryan calls these street light upgrades "the frosting on the cake" as the city moves toward meeting its goal for greater energy efficiencies.
There's another advantage in replacing the high pressure sodium vapor lights now in use. Those fixtures have a three- to five-year life span. The light-emitting diodes (LED) units will last 12 to 24 years, which means considerably less need for city crews to replace them. They also provide a "truer" light, which the cities of San Jose and Los Angeles, where they've been installed, have found to significantly reduce nighttime crime on city streets.
The report proposing the street light conversion plan is expected to go before the council for approval in March. With the OK and the financing in place, the six-month-long project should be completed by fall, perhaps in time to make the streets brighter and safer for Halloween.