Town eyes major streetlight changes

MOUNT DESERT — A proposal to improve the efficiency of the town’s streetlights and to make them more dark skies compliant may be ready for selectmen and voters to review in time for the annual town meeting next May.

Earlier this month, the town’s sustainability committee discussed the possibilities of changing the current streetlights to LEDs, which use much less energy. Any major program to replace existing bulbs and fixtures would also make the lights less likely to contribute to light pollution that can affect bird migration and obscure views of the night sky.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting in Northeast Harbor on Monday, Selectman Dennis Shubert, who is on the sustainability committee, reported that the group was waiting for some data from electrical utility Emera Maine before proceeding with a recommendation on hiring a consultant. “I’m sure we’ll be coming to selectmen for a little bit of money,” Shubert said.

“The town is looking at three options,” he said. One would be to do nothing. The second would be for the town to own the new lights, which can last up to 20 years without a need for replacement, with Emera doing the maintenance. The third option would be for the town to own and take care of the lights. “All it takes is a licensed electrician,” Shubert said Monday.

Changes in Maine Public Utilities Commission rules made earlier this year give communities greater latitude when it comes to streetlights.

Shubert explained that in addition to saving energy, LED lights can be programmed to dim during hours of little public activity to reduce light pollution and save on energy. They can be brought up to full intensity by remote control in seconds in the event of an emergency, he added.

Before committing to a town-wide refit, officials most likely will need to develop a formal lighting plan concerning light placement. “Just because a light is there now doesn’t mean it’s appropriate,” Shubert said.

Detailed cost and benefits reports also are being created.

The sustainability committee also is looking at the possibility of creating an illumination plan for waterfront areas. Improving the efficiency of interior lighting in town buildings also is under review.

An audit of outdoor lighting at all town-owned facilities was completed in 2014.

In a committee report presented to selectmen on Monday, committee member Dwight Lanpher pointed out the importance of the town selecting lights that shine in a spectrum that does not pose potential health problems. A Harvard studies suggests that light in the blue spectrum can adversely affect sleep patterns along with blood sugar and hormone levels.

Other members of the sustainability committee include Chairman Phil Lichtenstein, Gordon Beck, Sydney Roberts Rockefeller and Warren Smith.

Earl Brechlin

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.
Earl Brechlin

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