Alaska's largest city buys big into LED street lights

Anchorage winters are long.

While not as oppressive as those of Point Barrow on the Arctic Ocean, the long nights require decent man-made lighting to illuminate the often snow-packed and ice-frosted roads. And that makes street lights important.

The project is similar to one by the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership, which is working with 19 cities and one county and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to install energy saving LED street lights from Wasco to Selma and San Joaquin to Madera County and Gustine.

The effort by the Municipality of Anchorage, however, is massive with more than 16,000 street lights. The partnership's program is comparatively small with 2,136 lights.

The Anchorage Assembly approved phase one, and 4,000 LED fixtures have been installed, city officials say.

"At an initial investment of $2.2 million and an annual savings of $360,000, these fixtures will pay for themselves in less than seven years," they say.

Here's Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, discussing the projet at a a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in June 2010.

Begich, a former Anchorage mayor and long-time staffer, says he made sure to involve the community in the decision to swap the lights. He says the directive was to save money, but "let's make sure the end user appreciates the light." He also encourages other cities to follow with their own projects.

The Valley project, paid for with Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant funds, is nearly complete. The lighting saves cash-strapped Valley communities money and offers gives a whole new perspective on street lighting.

Expect to see more street lights with the distinctive bright LED light. PG&E is complementing the partnership's program with a separate on-bill financing opportunity, and many cities are taking the utility up on the work.

The end result is a smaller energy bill and better solvency in a tough economic time.

Alaska's largest city is making a big deal of the installation, at least on its website. City officials boast: "Anchorage is blazing the trail in streetlight improvement policies, and communities across the state, the country, and around the world are watching closely to follow our lead."

Anchorage often goes all out to boast of its accomplishments. If it doesn't, nobody pays attention. But the message is sound. Energy efficiency works.

Photo: PG&E replacing street lights with LED fixtures in Napa.