It was a big project. And it was done (almost) on time.
The cooperative effort between the City of Bakersfield and PG&E to replace 12,865 old “cobra head” streetlight fixtures with more efficient LED lights was scheduled to be completed by June 30.
The contractor hired by the electrical utility missed the deadline by a few days, but according to Stuart Patteson, the city's assistant director of public works, the work is now complete. And that means the energy savings will begin paying off the no-interest loan that paid for the new technology.
"It's called on-bill financing," Petteson said. "The city will pay the same (flat rate) energy bill, but the extra dollars will pay down the loan."
The reduction in energy costs alone is expected to save the city more than $700,000 per year. First that money will go to pay off a $4.5 million no-interest loan offered by PG&E to municipal customers who invest in energy-efficient projects.
Once the loan is paid off — estimated to take about six years — the energy savings directly benefits city coffers.
"There are so many benefits," said PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen.
For one, the light quality is better, allowing drivers better night vision. For another, the old-fashioned, high-pressure sodium-vapor lights don't last nearly as long as the LEDs. Some 2,500 of the old lights were replaced each year by the city. That number will be cut dramatically as LED lights last 15 to 20 years.
Better visibility. Less maintenance. A project that pays for itself.
The changeover represents nearly three-quarters of the 17,500 streetlight fixtures owned by the city of Bakersfield.
Are there any plans in the works to replace the remaining 4,600 or so?
Yes, Patteson said. The remaining lights are "decorative in nature."
They include the "acorn-style" light posts seen in the Oleander Avenue and Chester Avenue areas, and the "coach light style" that adorn the Mill Creek area and Q Street downtown.
The light fixtures have to be on an approved list to qualify for a new loan. Patteson believes it will become available to the city, and even the decorative fixtures will eventually be converted to LED technology.
Should that happen, the energy savings to the city could approach a $1 million a year.
The light is truer, Patteson said, less yellow. That makes the streets safer and the energy efficiency offers long-term savings to the taxpayer.
"This project went really well," he said.