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Clearwater to convert all streetlights to LED

Published Sep. 25, 2014

Clearwater will be the first city in Pinellas County to replace its streetlights with energy-saving LED bulbs come late October.

Duke Energy will slowly be removing all 11,290 streetlights currently containing standard incandescent bulbs, which it rents to the city, and installing the new light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs. Crews will begin in the Countryside area and move south and west. The process should take between 15 and 18 months.

The new lights will save the city about .02 percent per year, or about $430, said Paul Bertels, traffic operations manager. While Bertels admits the savings are "not that great," the conversion helps the city with its goal to become more green, citing the Clearwater Greenprint plan, a long-term initiative to increase sustainability.

"It's not just about dollars and cents," Bertels said. "(LED streetlights) will reduce our carbon footprint tremendously."

LED lights are more energy efficient than incandescent lights because they require fewer watts to produce the same amount, and oftentimes more, light.

About 65 percent of the city's streetlights are moving from 100-watt incandescent bulbs to 49- and 48-watt LED bulbs. The other street lights have changed to varied lower wattages.

The new lights will also last longer — about seven or eight years as opposed to 18 months with the old bulbs. Bertels said he expects the decreased outages will reduce annual maintenance costs.

Clearwater's savings are still relatively low, however, because while Duke Energy lowered its fuel and electricity and maintenance fees to reflect those reductions, it raised its rental fees for the poles and fixtures. The company has not disclosed information about the cost difference in the bulbs, Bertels said.

Some of Clearwater's costs also come from the more decorative street lights that have to be replaced near Clearwater Beach around the roundabout and on Mandalay Avenue, Coronado Drive and Gulfview Boulevard as well as on Fort Harrison.

Mayor George Cretekos said he is excited about the project and feels the benefits outweigh the costs.

"It gives us better light, and it does use less energy," he said.

For other cities, like St. Petersburg, that wasn't enough. City Council Chairman Karl Nurse said the city would expect a 30 percent, or more than $1.5 million, decrease in total cost given the energy and maintenance reductions. Nurse said Duke Energy so far has not budged, though they're still negotiating.

"We think it's reasonable to share — but share — not Duke gets all of (the savings)," he said. "I don't think that's fair."

This isn't the first time Clearwater has made a switch to LED. In 2010, Clearwater converted about 5,000 traffic lights to LED. Bertels said he was encouraged by the results of that project: a 70 percent energy reduction.

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"It's the way the world is going," Bertels said.

Contact Taylor Goldenstein at tgoldenstein@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155.

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