Cue the Lights

Phase two of Santa Fe’s streetlight conversion starts this summer

A new contract will set in motion the second phase of the city’s mission to convert streetlights to LED luminaries.

On Feb. 28, the City Council and the mayor approved a $568,511 agreement with the Public Service Company of New Mexico to convert approximately 1,100 of its streetlights. Approximately 900 more PNM-owned streetlights await replacement in a third phase of the conversion project.

City of Santa Fe Traffic Operations Engineer Michael Dalmolin tells SFR that number is “a ballpark estimate” based on other conversions PNM has done, including in Albuquerque. The city first needs to see how far the contract amount will take them with “biblical” inflation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dalmolin adds.

“Now fast forward three years. The cost of these conversions has basically doubled. It’s not quite doubled, but probably 30% to 40% higher,” Dalmolin says. “That means that the original amount that was bonded is no longer enough money…It’s more of a situation, I think, based on the city has not been able to find any money recently and I think they’re looking to borrow more money, but we just had this pot of money and we want to go and do some.”

While the contract doesn’t dictate specifically which of its roughly 2,000 lights to replace, Dalmolin says his priority will be mercury vapor ones versus high pressure sodium.

“Those are going to be prioritized because they don’t meet our current roadway guidelines. They also have the added benefit that they cost a lot more. They’re 15% or 20% more expensive per month than the high pressure sodium,” he says. “The other criteria is based on constituents. We have a lot of constituents that are making requests to have the conversion done, and we can shield LEDs a lot better and direct the light a lot better…because they’re full cut offs.”

The city’s downtown area houses the bulk of PNM’s streetlights. Lights that line Alameda Street; Old Santa Fe Trail; Upper Canyon Road; Don Gaspar Avenue; and surrounding neighborhoods are primarily managed by PNM. In addition, streetlights off Siringo Road and neighborhoods near Midtown also fall under the company’s purview, as well as a handful off Airport Road. Dalmolin says he will prepare a proposal of streetlights to convert, but ultimately it is city leadership’s decision.

The replacement of streetlights owned by PNM—estimated to cost the city around $1 million—came with a delay because the company had to complete required regulatory work with the Public Regulation Commission based on changes the city made to the design as a result of public input. The City Council approved that revised design that called for warmer, dimmer lights in May 2021.

Eric Chavez, a spokesperson for PNM Corporate Communications, tells SFR the company is “excited to support the City of Santa Fe” in the conversion project.

“There will be about 1,000 streetlights converted to LED bulbs in Santa Fe, taking a big step forward towards the sustainability goals for both the City of Santa Fe and PNM,” Chavez says. “To put it into perspective, the energy saved from this conversion is expected to be about the same as the amount of energy used by 84 homes in one year.”

Chavez says moving forward, PNM will issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) in order to select the contractor to lead the light conversion.

“Once the RFP is complete and a contractor is chosen, we expect work to begin at the beginning of this summer and wrap up towards the end of this year,” Chavez adds.

Prior to the approval, the city hosted an Early Neighborhood Notification (ENN) meeting about the second phase Feb. 22 via Zoom.

Brian Jensen, the organizational advancement officer for the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, attended the ENN and tells SFR the organization—which has been at the forefront of protecting dark skies since 2008—remains concerned about the lights’ color temperature.

PRC and state transportation regulations specify cities should use 4,000 kelvins on main roads and 3,000 kelvins in residential areas, City of Santa Fe Public Works Director Regina Wheeler previously told SFR. She added that the city’s own design—which PNM will also use—is 3,000 kelvins for main roads and 2,700 kelvins for residential areas, respectively. A kelvin is a unit of thermodynamic temperature; generally, the higher the number, the whiter the color temperature of the bulb, which results in the light appearing brighter.

Jensen tells SFR it does not seem to him the city intends to adjust the color temperature, even though they are “on the higher end of what the International Dark Sky Association considers to be dark sky friendly.”

To that end, “we would want to make sure that those temperatures don’t go any higher and continue to look for ways to lower those temperatures as we move forward,” he says. “There’s not necessarily an engagement on changing the color temperature, but there is an engagement on further ways to reduce light glare, light trespass and so forth, which do go to protecting a dark sky.”

One way this can be achieved, Dalmolin says, is through an update to city code and ordinances for development by the Land Use Division, which is already in “the early stages.”

“Lighting will be one component, and that will look to address some of the other ones that are beyond the scope of public works, [such as] commercial development,” he says. “During the ENN, we received a lot of comments about lighting on commercial properties and dimming…We’re in the early stages of developing a scope with a consultant, and we look forward to beginning that process here in the coming months.”

A memorandum on the agreement cites several statistics from the Federal Highway Administration that show street lighting reduces vehicle crashes on roadways at night and lowers pedestrian injury crashes by 28% and 42%, respectively. While the Santa Fe Conservation Trust lauds the city’s efforts to increase safety, Jensen notes the effects extra light can have on residents and wildlife, including linkage to increased breast and prostate cancer rates as a result of overexposure to artificial lighting at night and disrupted sleep patterns. He adds “it’s also just lots of light.”

“I think the perspective that both safety and protection for wildlife and humans, energy saving that helps you achieve sustainability goals, and fight climate change—All three of those are achievable,” Jensen says. “There’s not a need for a trade off there, essentially, is really the perspective that we’re taking that you can have lights that shine that provide safety to the public and are also energy efficient and you can save the city [and] people money.”

In March 2022, the city and its contractor Dalkia Energy Solutions completed a $2.5 million conversion of all city-owned streetlights—roughly 3,500—to LED luminaries. According to a January 2023 report from Dalkia, that project is estimated to save the city $224,058 annually.

If customers see a streetlight out, PNM says it encourages them to report it by using the streetlight map which can be found at

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