Ocean City Opts To Convert Street Lights To LED; Annual Savings Estimated At $296K

Ocean City Opts To Convert Street Lights To LED; Annual Savings Estimated At $296K
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City is going all in on a plan to replace street lighting with LED fixtures after resort officials reviewed some options this week.

During Tuesday’s work session, the Mayor and Council heard a presentation from City Engineer Terry McGean and Delmarva Power officials about options for replacing the street lighting in most areas of the town. The presentation included three basic options, from simply doing nothing, to allowing Delmarva Power to replace the street lights with LED fixtures piecemeal at a rate of about five percent a year, or, finally, having Delmarva Power replace all of the street lights in one major project to be accomplished over a period of a year or so.

After reviewing the costs estimates for each option, it was essentially a no-brainer to go for the third option and the council ultimately voted unanimously to upgrade all the existing lights. Currently, there are a little over 1,300 street lights in Ocean City owned and maintained by Delmarva Power that are paid for by the resort. The town pays for the power distribution and other assorted costs for operating the 1,300-plus lights to the tune of around $575,000 a year.

By way of background, the town owns, maintains and pays for many street antique-style street lights in areas such as the Boardwalk, along Baltimore and St. Louis avenues and some areas of Philadelphia Avenue in the downtown area. There are other street lights owned and paid for by the State Highway Administration (SHA), including those in the recently-replaced median section from Convention Center Drive to 62nd Street, or the section equipped with a median fence prior to the current summer season, along with the street lights on the Route 50 and Route 90 bridges.

Other than those areas, the rest of the street lighting along Coastal Highway and many of the side streets in Ocean City are owned by Delmarva Power and paid for by the Town of Ocean City. By optioning to allow Delmarva Power to convert all of those street lights to LED comes with an estimated upfront cost of $450,000.

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In short, if all of the eligible street lights are retrofitted, the annual savings to the town would be around $296,000. The $450,000 retrofit to LED could be offset by a possible grant, which would cut the cost by about half. According to the plan, Delmarva Power would pay for the materials needed to retrofit all of the light fixtures to LED, while the town would pay for the labor involved.

Because the project will likely be spread over two years, the estimated $450,000 upfront cost could be spread over two budget cycles. All in all, opting for the total retrofit in a single project instead of doing it piecemeal over a number of years will allow the town to quickly reap the savings from the LED conversion.

“There is substantial savings in doing that,” said McGean. “It would pay back the $450,000 in about two years.”

McGean explained the necessary first step in the process would be to assess all of the locations and wattage of the existing street lights in the resort from one end to the other.

“The first step would be to work with Delmarva Power to take an inventory of all of the street lights in town,” he said. “There might be cases where some could be taken out and some cases where lights could be added.”

The second step would be the actual retrofitting of the street light fixtures.

“It’s going to take a while to get the materials,” he said. “The first step would be to do Coastal Highway and get that out of the way, then focus on the side streets. It will not be a very intrusive project, mostly bucket trucks to swap out the fixtures, but it’s going to take some time.”

Councilman Dennis Dare questioned the second option that called for doing just five percent of the fixtures each year.

“Doing just five percent a year would take 20 years,” he said. “Where did that figure come from?”

Delmarva Power Senior Public Affairs Manager Jim Smith said the five percent was a directive from the Maryland Public Service Commission.

“That five percent has been in place for years,” he said. “It’s a figure dictated by the Public Service Commission. We have 85,000 street lights in our service territory. If there was a bum rush to replace all of them, we couldn’t do that.”

Dare said there were many different types of LED fixtures to choose from and urged Delmarva Power to choose carefully.

“Over the years, there have been some complaints about the decorative lights up on poles shining into windows,” he said. “The LED lights are imbedded in the fixture and there is not a point source shining down. I urge you to use caution so we don’t end up with something people aren’t happy with.”

McGean explained the town’s street light inventory included wattage from 150 watts on the low side to as high as 400 watts in other areas. Councilman Wayne Hartman suggested reviewing some areas where the wattage could be increased as long as they were all being replaced anyway, especially with the relatively low costs associated with the project.

“With us knowing better lighting means better security, would we be better off switching out all of those 150-watt bulbs?” he said.

However, McGean explained the wattages were carefully chosen for different areas of town and simply increasing all of the wattages might not be the best option.

“I will caution you there is a portion of the population that wants more light and some that complain every time we increase them,” he said. “It’s a balancing act.”

Nonetheless, the savings per fixture goes up exponentially by their wattages under the proposed plan. For example, the town’s current monthly charge for a 100-watt fixture is $19.87, which would drop to $13.02 with the new LED fixtures. A 150-watt light now costs the town $29.84 per month, which would drop to $14.18 under the new plan. The cost of a 250-watt fixture is currently $42.61 per month, which would drop to $16.07 per month under the new plan. Hartman said with the obvious cost savings, there could be opportunities to explore increasing the wattage in some areas.

“There could be some areas where we want more lighting,” he said. “That could mean going from 150 watts to 250 watts. If that’s the case, we could 35 percent more lighting for very little extra cost.”

Among the town’s current 1.321 light fixtures owned by Delmarva Power, just 82 include 400-watt bulbs, but there are currently no 400-watt LED lights available. McGean explained they would remain as the old high-pressure sodium fixtures until such time as LED becomes available.

As far as the timetable for the retrofit goes, McGean explained the project could begin early next year and continue through the spring and early summer before being put on hold during next July and August. The project would then resume in September and continue until the entire retrofit is completed.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.