After more than a year and a half pause for an LED streetlight conversion project, city officials expect to enter a contract with the Public Service Company of New Mexico to finish its portion early next year.
In May 2022, the City of Santa Fe and its contractor Dalkia Energy Solutions completed the conversion of all city-owned streetlights to LED luminaries—roughly 3,500 out of the total 5,500 scheduled for replacement.The rest of the lights belong to PNM, which recently completed required regulatory work with the Public Regulation Commission based on the city’s design changes in response to public input. The City Council approved that revised plan, which called for warmer, dimmer lights, in May 2021.
“PNM had to get approved for those, and as I like to say, in true Santa Fe style, we have the warmest and the dimmest lighting design that you can get in a well-manufactured and 10-year-warranted product,” Public Works Director Regina Wheeler tells SFR.
PRC and state transportation regulations specify cities should use 4,000 kelvins on main roads and 3,000 kelvins in residential areas, Wheeler says. A kelvin is a unit of thermodynamic temperature; generally, the higher the number, the whiter the color temperature of the bulb, which makes the light appear brighter.
Wheeler says the city decided on 3,000 kelvins for the main roads and 2,700 kelvins in residential areas. PNM will use the same design to complete its portion of the conversion project, she says.
PNM Santa Fe Community Manager Jamie Aranda tells SFR the company and the city are “currently in conversations about the contract and contract negotiations,” but both parties anticipate having a contract ready for city government to look at during the first month of the new year.
“I think it just depends on the city’s legal schedule and our legal schedule, but the idea is to try to get it to the governing body sometime in January, and it will be a partial conversion based on the city’s funding availability,” Aranda says. “It just also depends on manufacturer lead times which I think in all industries have been taking much longer than pre-pandemic.”
Wheeler tells SFR her department plans to ask for City Council approval of a contract that will pay PNM to convert 1,000 more of the roughly 2,000 streetlights it owns within the city. The remaining lights could be replaced later at the city’s request. While there’s “no exact timeline yet” for that process, Wheeler anticipates completion between six months to a year after officials sign the contract.
Aranda says PNM will start the conversion either at the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of 2024 now that the company received approval from PRC.
Santa Fe Conservation Trust Executive Director Sarah Noss says the organization lauded the city’s efforts to save energy, but also advocated against increased light pollution in the early planning stages of the conversion project.
The trust argued lights be shielded by full cutoff fixtures and for LED bulbs to be in the 2,000-kelvin range in residential areas—no brighter than 2,700 kelvins. Those details, Noss says, matter because of the adverse effect of light pollution on city residents.
“Studies show us that artificial light that’s especially blue violet light in the LED lighting hire spectrum, which is over 3,000 kelvin, at night affects the circadian cycle in humans, and when your circadian cycle gets screwed up, it affects the cell cycle regulation, DNA damage response, hormone production and metabolism,” Noss says.
Wheeler says both energy and cost savings are already panning out.
“The PRC established a rate that the city pays PNM for the electricity on the streetlights and when they’re converted from the old energy sucking high pressure sodium [bulbs] to the energy conservative LEDs, the rate that we pay dropped by 60%, so it’s built into the conversion project,” she says. “It’s not like ‘let’s see if they really save money,’—it’s like boom, we just immediately start paying less to run those lights.”
According to a January 2023 report from Dalkia, the city has already saved an estimated $167,450 on electricity bills this year thanks to the conversion.The city paid $2.5 million for its part of the LED light conversion effort, and Wheeler expects the entirety of the PNM’s remaining job to cost the city around $1 million.
To see a map of streetlights, learn more about the conversion project or find out how to report a light outage, go to santafe.dalkiasolutions.com.