Streetlights are about to get brighter, cheaper and more energy efficient in a wide swath of Minnesota.
Xcel Energy, the largest electric company in Minnesota, said Thursday that it intends to replace all of its 100,000 streetlights across the state with energy-efficient LEDs — part of a proposed $100 million, five-year streetlight upgrade in all eight states it serves.
The utility, which supplies street lighting in Minneapolis, St. Paul and about 200 other Minnesota communities, said the cost of LEDs has dropped significantly, which means the extra cost of installing them is offset by lower energy and maintenance costs. Xcel estimated savings of 3.6 percent to 6.6 percent per month, or $3,000 to $5,000 per month for a modest-sized city.
“We are at the point where we can roll this out to our communities, and they will see that savings every month from the first day,” said Laura McCarten, a regional vice president for Xcel.
One other bonus, McCarten and others said, is that LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, offer brighter, higher-quality light than the yellowish glow from high-pressure sodium streetlights now widely used.
“It is just better light,” said Jesse Foote, an analyst for Navigant Research, which recently published a report on the LED streetlight market. “It is night and day. You can actually see things because you are getting full-spectrum white light.”
McCarten said at least 30 cities, including Minneapolis, have talked to Xcel about switching to LED streetlights. Many cities have Xcel-owned and city-owned streetlights. The announcement on Thursday relates to Xcel-owned streetlights, which generally are on wood power poles.
In Minneapolis, Xcel owns and maintains 28,000 streetlights and charges the city a monthly rate for each one. Another 20,000 streetlights in Minneapolis are owned by the city, which pays Xcel for the electricity.
Many cities are turning to LEDs to save money, including Detroit Lakes, Marshall and St. Cloud. The Minnesota Transportation Department, which has more than 35,000 highway lights, also is moving to LEDs. Half the lights in the metro-area and 28 percent outstate are converted or scheduled to be converted this year, MnDOT said.
In 2013, Xcel installed 500 LED streetlights in West St. Paul as a test and concluded they save money and offer better lighting. In Russell, Minn., a city of 330 people in southwest Minnesota, the streetlight electric bill dropped by 58 percent after its local utility, the Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative, replaced its 103 streetlights with LEDs last year, an annual savings of more than $16 per resident.
“People were very happy not only with the cost savings but the way it looks,” said Brian Jeremiason, the coop’s manager of energy services.
Other power coops also have LED streetlight programs, including Connexus Energy, Dakota Electric Association and Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Associations, all of which serve metro-area communities, and Lakes Region Electric Cooperative in Pelican Rapids.
Xcel’s big push into LEDs could be a turning point for the technology in Minnesota and other states it serves.
“Once you see it happening at that level, it tips the scale,” said Dan Thiede of the Clean Energy Resource Teams, a St. Paul-based group that promotes energy efficiency and has offered grants for LED street lighting.
Xcel, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, also supplies electricity in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Foote said other U.S. utilities offer LED street lighting as an option for cities, but Xcel is the first company he’s heard of that wants to rapidly replace all of its streetlights with the technology. Utilities have long made money selling electricity at night when power demand otherwise is low.
“Utilities are one of the barriers,” he said. “They don’t always have the right incentive to go to LEDs.”
Less energy, longer life
Xcel said the LED streetlights require 40 percent to 60 percent less electricity than sodium lighting. That energy savings is partly offset by a higher monthly charge for each light, reflecting Xcel’s purchase and installation of the technology. Even so, replacing a 150-watt sodium light with a 65-watt LED will save cities nearly 7 percent overall, Xcel said.
To get better LED prices, Xcel solicited bids from producers and chose General Electric, Philips and Acuity Brands to supply units in the eight states where Xcel operates. Altogether, 300,000 to 350,000 streetlights will be replaced companywide under the plan, said Bob Schommer, Xcel’s LED project manager.
McCarten said Minnesota’s replacement project will be timed to Xcel’s existing bulb-replacement program. Instead of sending crews to change bulbs, the utility will use contract workers to replace the streetlight with an LED model. After that, Xcel no longer will need to replace bulbs every five or six years because LED versions can last two decades
David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 • @ShafferStrib
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