The first community-wide test of LED streetlights in Minnesota is already producing big energy savings for the city of West St. Paul.

The results could lead to lots of others making the same move.

"Other cities need to pay attention to this,'' Mayor John Zanmiller said. "This is the way it's going, and we're fortunate that we were the test lab.''

The light-emitting diode bulbs create a brighter and crisper illumination than the yellowish light put out by the high-pressure sodium streetlights widely in use, he said. "You used to see that dull yellow haze. Now it's a crisp view of the street. When you get a nice snow on the ground, it just illuminates everything.''

The Xcel Energy test in West St. Paul is the state's largest installation of its kind and the first community-wide test, involving more than 500 lights.

Xcel is seeing significant energy savings, reduced service calls and approval from residents, who say the brighter lights have made the community safer and more attractive.

The test will continue into next year, when Xcel will make a final report to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Xcel then plans to file a request with the state asking that information drawn from West St. Paul be used as the basis for establishing rates and fixture options for LED streetlights, company spokeswoman Patti Nystuen said.

Council Member Dave Napier said the LED lights illuminate down, not out. "We are enjoying it as a neighborhood. It's a softer light. When you look down the street, it's got a softer look.''

Council Member Ed Iago added: "From a public safety point of view, the streets are noticeably better lit.''

City officials are anxious to learn just how much money West St. Paul will save. That question won't be answered until Xcel proposes an LED rate and the state approves it — in late 2014 or 2015.

In a recent letter to the state, Xcel said it proposed the streetlight project to "advance the goal of increased energy efficiency on our system.'' It's a chance "to test the LED streetlight technology on our system and in our unique climate and to gain firsthand installation, operations and maintenance experience.''

The LED industry claims that the streetlights last 12 years or more and reduce energy consumption by 30 to 50 percent compared with high-pressure sodium lights.

Since Jan. 10, when Xcel finished replacing 525 sodium lights with new LED bulbs, there have been no service orders to repair the lights themselves and just six to repair controls, the company said. That compares with 80 service orders on the sodium lights in 2012 and 161 in 2011.

The Xcel crew also found that the LED lights were simpler and faster to install.

Xcel replaced 100-watt, 150-watt and 250-watt lights with LED lights lower in wattage (67, 94 and 130) but just as bright.

Four separate meter readings found that the 67-watt LED light consumed 20, 14, 13 and 16 kilowatts compared with 36, 30, 24 and 25 consumed by the 100-watt sodium light.

Energy savings were even greater when comparing the 130-watt LED light with the 250-watt conventional version.

The 130-watt LED light consumed 40, 46, 26 and 31 watts in four readings, about half as much as the 250-watt predecessor: 93, 78, 62 and 67 watts consumed.

"While we are finding significant energy savings in this initial analysis, we will need a full year of data to perform a more thorough analysis,'' Xcel said.

The firm said it found largely positive reactions in a survey of 952 West St. Paul households. About 150, or 16 percent, were aware of the new lights.

"Of those aware, the sentiment is very strong: Nearly nine out of 10 customers said they were satisfied with the LED street lighting and 77 percent said they were highly satisfied. ... Almost two-thirds of the customers surveyed see the new lighting as enhancing the appearance of their neighborhoods (64 percent) and making their neighborhood safer (61 percent).''

Zanmiller said a few residents were initially unhappy with the additional light the LED lamps produce. Xcel either redirected the light or put up screens to shield windows and yards.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287