Blaine moving forward with new streetlights

Published on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Saving energy is high on the city of Blaine’s priority list these days, and current plans will make the city not only a little greener but a pioneer as well. 

Around 190 streetlights throughout the city will be retrofitted with multi-socket LED lamps next year, a design change that is expected to reduce the city’s energy costs by 54 percent and avoid a potential rate hike from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) that would be passed on to ratepayers. 

“We operate our own electric utility, but we buy all of our power from BPA,” said Blaine public works director Ravyn Whitewolf. “Based on our current contract, we pay what’s called a Tier 1 rate, but as our energy usage increases we would be bumped up to a Tier 2 rate, which is higher. The LED installations will delay that increase for a while because it reduces the amount of power we have to buy.”

Blaine will be the first city in the county to make these changes citywide, Whitewolf said. “Bellingham and Ferndale have installed these kind of lights in new development areas,” she said, “but we’ll be the first to implement it across the board.”

The new lights are expected to have a 15-year-plus life span and will replace existing metal halide and high-pressure sodium lights. The lamps will have either five or six bulbs (depending on the model the city selects) and will lower maintenance costs, since if one bulb burns out, there are still others left to do the job. “Even when they do start to go out, there’s not as much of an impact,” Whitewolf said. “It keeps our guys from having to go out and climb poles to replace light bulbs so often.”

The city is paying for the new lights through a combination of a 15-year bond and grants from the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) and from the Washington State Department of Commerce.

“They aren’t going to be the fancy, vintage lights you see on H Street,” she said. “Those are reserved for the downtown district. These will be more standard streetlights that are simple and reliable.” Whitewolf said the model will be chosen based on recommendations by the TIB. “Their engineers have done the research, so we can be confident in what we’re buying,” she said.

The funds from the TIB are part of the Small City Sidewalk Program, a pilot program designed to help cities with a population under 5,000 maintain their transportation infrastructure. The funding is awarded annually through a competitive process and projects are rated based on criteria developed by the board. 

The TIB awards approximately $10 million to new small city projects each year.

“We’re fortunate to be part of that pilot program,” Whitewolf said, adding that the city received $421,000 in grants from the TIB for the improvements, which will cost $476,000 in total. The difference will be paid for through a $1.6 million conservation bond that the city has taken out to finance this and other energy-savings projects that will be subsequently implemented.

In 2012, Blaine hired Johnson Controls, a company that specializes in energy optimization, to conduct an audit of the city’s facilities. The firm analyzed the city’s energy usage and recommended improvements to lower energy usage such as upgrades to the elevator and the HVAC unit in the city hall building and modernizing equipment at the Lighthouse Water Reclamation Facility. Johnson Controls estimated that the upgrades would cost about $2.8 million. 

“The idea is that we’ll see savings even while we’re paying off the loan,” Whitewolf said. “Over the course of the loan, we expect to save $322,500 in energy costs thanks to the new lights. And after the loan is paid off, we’ll still see a savings of $60,000 to $70,000 a year. Almost every facet of our overall project is eligible for BPA rebates, so we’ll save money there as well.” 

Overall, Whitewolf said she expects the collective improvements and upgrades to save the city $733,000 through the life of the loan and, once it is paid off, the city will save close to $250,000 annually. 

The streetlight project is out to bid, and once that process has been completed, the city will order and begin installing the new lights. The lights should be retrofitted by the end of 2014.