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Council hears time is right for $8 million switch to LED street lights

Committee of the Whole votes unanimously to move forward with plan expected to save the city millions in the long run

Guelph City Council's Committee of the Whole heard Tuesday that the time is right to switch the city's street lights to LED lighting.

The committee later voted unanimously to support a staff recommendation that calls for an $8 million investment on switching the city’s 13,000 street lights to LED.

Councillors James Gordon and Phil Allt were absent.

“It’s an expensive capital outlay, but what I like about this is that it is backed by a business case” and a third party review, Mayor Cam Guthrie said. “That’s what gives me the confidence to vote yes.”

A staff report says the cost of the switch over would pay for itself within six years when maintenance costs are also factored in.

The recommendation now goes to the full meeting of City Council for final approval. If endorsed, a request for proposal will be issued and the switch could take place within nine months, Tuesday’s meeting was told.

Alex Chapman, manager of the city’s climate change office, told the meeting that third-party review of the information gathered showed that the cost and technology of LED street lights had “flattened out” and that there was no benefit to delaying the move.

“We’re not going to get incremental benefit in delaying further,” said Chapman in response to a query about how some municipalities may have gone all-in on LED lighting too soon and not benefited financially and technologically as much as if they had delayed the decision.

That same report identifies $14.2 million in "net avoided cost" to the city over 15 years if the switch happens.

The retrofit would be funded by borrowing from the city's Wastewater Capital Reserve Fund.

Councillor Christine Billings inquired as to whether that internal borrowing could hurt the city’s credit rating, but was told by city staff that internal borrowing does not affect the credit rating like external borrowing does.

Councillor Cathy Downer added a clause to the recommendation that would see the new light fixtures need to be approved by the International Dark Sky Association, a non-profit group that works to reduce light pollution.

East end resident Brenda Aherne delegated at Tuesday’s meeting and spoke about the issue of excessive lighting on private property in her end of the city.

That led to a discussion about the potential for future discussion on a city lighting bylaw, which currently doesn't’t exist.

Deputy CAO Scott Stewart said staff would look into what would be involved in such a move and would report back to council at a future date.

A key part of the new LED lights would be that they would include adaptive controls, giving control over the lights not currently available, such as dimming lights at low-traffic times and ramping up of brightness as it gets dark at night.

The city would own the LED lights. The company that would do the retrofit would also maintain them. Guelph Hydro currently maintains the city's street light system.

The city currently spends $121 annually per lamp for electricity right now. The City of Barrie, which the report says is a fair comparison to Guelph, spends $67 annually on lights converted to LED.

The city spent $2 million on street lighting in 2016, $1.5 million of that on electricity, the rest on maintenance.