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Charleston streetlight bulbs to be swapped to LED to save energy, money

Charleston street lights

About 6,800 cobrahead-style street lights in the city of Charleston, like this one near Charlotte and Concord streets, will be converted to LED bulbs. John McDermott/Staff

Nearly 7,000 streetlights across Charleston will switch to energy-saving bulbs over the next year under a program that could reduce the city's power costs and environmental impact.

Charleston City Council this week approved Dominion Energy South Carolina's proposal to convert the existing overhead lamps to light-emitting diode technology, or LED.

"Dominion is providing us with an incentive to switch over to LED lighting," said Jason Kronsberg, the city's parks director.

The program will be free to Charleston for the first five years. The lease rate the city pays Dominion for providing the lighting service will be reduced as the bulbs are replaced.

"The hope is that the cost of LED lighting goes down over the five years and equalizes, so there won't be a cost in the future," Kronsberg said.

More than 6,800 "cobrahead" streetlights on the peninsula, in West Ashley and on James Island will be converted to the higher-efficiency lamps, said city spokesman Jack O'Toole. 

The reduction in power consumption could save about $10,000 a month, for a total of nearly $600,000 over the five-year contract period. The projected decline in energy usage of 3.7 million kilowatt hours annually is enough to power nearly 350 homes for a year, according to Dominion.

City officials said the switch will result in a 31 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions from the light poles, with an overall governmentwide reduction of 5 percent.

On top of the financial and environmental advantages, the program offers enhanced lighting benefits. Kronsberg said the LED variety will provide clean white light and reduce light pollution.

Safety is another factor, according to Dominion spokesman Paul Fischer.

"Light output provides excellent coverage with more uniformity and less shadows for increased safety," he said.

Also, the new technology will send automatic notifications to the power company if a light needs to be repaired or replaced, relieving the city of that task.

The utility said it plans to begin replacing the bulbs, which cost between about $12 and $20 and have a total value of about $102,000, immediately. The goal is to complete the conversion by the end of 2023. 

Richmond, Va.-based Dominion began offering the option to local governments within its service territories about two years ago. More than half "have already committed to the program or completed the LED conversion," the company said.

The Charleston lightbulb swap is recipient of a demand-side management incentive from Dominion. According to the utility's website, it's funded by ratepayers under a series of energy-saving proposals that the S.C. Public Service Commission approved in 2010. 

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