Streetlights on Siesta Key to make transition to LED starting in late July

FPL project explained to Siesta Key Association members

Images illustrate the difference between high pressure sodium lighting effects (left) and those produced by LED lighting. Image courtesy FPL

Beginning right around July 23, Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) will begin switching out high pressure sodium lights for LED fixtures on the 325 poles that it owns and maintains on the north and south ends of Siesta Key.

That was the news Lisa Cece, Sarasota County’s special district coordinator, and two representatives of FPL provided about 25 members of the Siesta Key Association(SKA) during the organization’s regular meeting on June 7.

The project will not encompass Siesta Village, however, Cece explained.

Yet, “it’s hard to see people in the crosswalks,” SKA member Robert Luckner pointed out.

The decorative lighting in the Village is part of a district for which the property owners pay upkeep, Cece responded, and they have not expressed an interest in making a switch.

Furthermore, she continued, “The county’s not in a position for big expenditures.” The County Commission has been working on initiatives with staff to pare costs in an effort to balance upcoming fiscal year budgets.

Eventually, Cece said, she believes the LED conversion will be considered in the Village.

She also explained that although part of FPL’s lighting area west of the Siesta Drive drawbridge is in the City of Sarasota, city leaders have not decided yet whether to proceed with a switch. Discussions between FPL representatives and city staff have been underway, she noted.

When the project begins in July, she continued, it will cover the area from the vicinity of the Higel Avenue/Faubel Street intersection and encompass the northern and southern segments of the island except for Siesta Village.

Photos show lighting in an area after LED streetlights have been installed (top) and in a situation with high pressure sodium lights. Image courtesy FPL

The annual savings for FPL for 296 of those 325 lights on the island has been projected at 9.84%, Eric S. Culling, senior sales rep for commercial and industrial clients, told the SKA audience. The yearly bill is expected to drop from $33,182.88 to $29,918.04 for the 296 streetlights, a PowerPoint slide said, while the switch also will eliminate 70 metric tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere each year.

The remainder of the 325 streetlights will have a higher wattage fixture to provide greater illumination at areas such as large intersections, Culling explained.

The LED lighting also will enable drivers to see true colors, he pointed out, instead of motorists observing everything in an orange shade created by the high pressure sodium streetlights.

Under the terms of an ordinance the County Commission approved in 1982 — which won voter support in a referendum the same year — the Siesta Key Lighting District has 325 streetlights that FPL owns and maintains under agreement with the county, Cece told the SKA audience. The special ad valorem tax assessment for the current fiscal year for the expense of those lights, she added, is $25,487; property owners within the district’s boundaries pay for the lighting.

Madonna Rykken, a senior sales consultant with FPL, explained that the company’s primary interest in making the conversion to LED lighting is to save money. With about 10 million customers throughout the state — including those on both coasts — FPL still manages to charge some of the lowest utility rates in the Unites States, Rykken pointed out.

Lisa Cece shows the SKA audience members the type of LED fixture that will be used on the vast majority of the poles on the island as Madonna Rykken of FPL looks on. Rachel Hackney photo

“The biggest expense that we actually have is to build a new power plant,” she said. The greater the efficiencies the company can achieve for existing customers, she added, the longer it can hold off on constructing a new facility, which most likely would cost about $100 million. As more people continue to move to Florida, she added, the company has been working hard to contain its costs.

Culling explained that LED technology has undergone a series of improvements over the years. Company leaders wanted to make certain it was at a good stage in that process before beginning to implement it, he added.

In 2017, FPL asked the state’s Public Service Commissionfor a rate increase so it could start making the conversion to LED lighting, Rykken noted. In March 2017, the commission granted the request. Last summer, FPL began implementing the changes on the east coast, she said. In January, it was ready to start the process on the west coast. “We wanted to stage it so we wouldn’t run out of inventory.”

One other important facet of the project, she said, is the incorporation of a “smart node” in each fixture, which stays in constant communication with the company’s power grid. When a streetlight is close to the point of failing, she added, the node will let the grid know.

Whenever a light does fail, she continued, the company automatically generates a ticket so an FPL employee can put in a new light. “In the past [the process] was very cumbersome and involved a lot of people,” Rykken added. Typically, a member of the public would notice a streetlight had burned out. In Sarasota County, the person most likely would contact county staff, which, in turn, had to contact FPL. “It could be three or four weeks,” she said, before the light was shining again.

Other advantages with LED lighting

Eric Culling addresses the SKA members on June 7. Rachel Hackney photo

Rykken then introduced Culling, calling him her “tech master.”

Culling talked of the “orange” effect of the high pressure sodium lighting (HPS). “The grass is orange. The white car is orange,” he pointed out. From a technical standpoint, he continued, the HPS lights have a color rendering index (CRI) of about 20. The CRI of full daylight is 100, he added. “That’s kind of your reference point.” With LED lights, he said, the CRI is 70. “The grass is going to start to look green.”

LED streetlights also are important from a safety and security standpoint, Culling noted. Drivers are able to see the actual colors of other vehicles on the road and of buildings they might be seeking as reference points. In the event of accidents or criminal incidents, he said, LED systems make it possible for people to accurately report the colors of clothing and other cars.

Moreover, Culling said, LED streetlights use about 40% to 50% less kilowatts than HPS lights, and they have “a much longer life expectancy” — 12 to 18 years, compared to four to seven years for HPS streetlights.

Yet another important factor with LEDs is the reduction in light pollution, he pointed out. With LEDs, he said, 90% to 93% of the actual light is projected to the surface the fixture is meant to illuminate. With HPS fixtures, he added, about 40% of the light is typically lost.

He showed the SKA members a slide with images of the city of Los Angeles when HPS lights remained in use and after the conversion was made to LED, noting the orange aura in the skyline in the first photo. Los Angeles, he added, was the first city to implement LED lighting.

Culling also talked of watching the National Basketball Association finals the previous night. When the TV network showed aerial views outside the arena in Cleveland, he pointed out, “I could see the orange roadways that hadn’t been converted,” as well as the parking lots with LED lights. “All puns intended, it was a night and day difference.”

Photos illustrate the difference in the city of Los Angeles, before (left) and after LED lighting was installed. Image courtesy FPL

People have asked whether roads will be too bright after the LED conversion has been made in Florida, he continued. However, he assured the audience members that after they become accustomed to the new streetlights, they are “not going to know that much has changed,” other than being able to see the roads more clearly.

With help from SKA President Gene Kusekoski, Culling was able to show the audience a video FPL produced about the differences between LED and HPS lighting situations. The video may be seen at this link: