LEDs will light up Homer Harbor next year

Homer will soon join the list of U.S. cities making the switch to LED lights.

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Under the new law, the harbor is excluded from the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area (Photo by Aaron Selbig, KBBI - Homer)
Homer Harbor (Photo by Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer)

On Oct. 10, the Homer City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the installation of new LED lights on seven high mast poles around the Homer Harbor.

Originally, the Port and Harbor Department had planned to install LEDs on a single pole as a test project. But the City Council voted down that ordinance in favor of an expanded project that will install lights on all seven poles. The estimated price tag for the project is $180,000.

Bryan Hawkins is the Port Director for the City of Homer. Though the LED lights are expensive, he said they are worth the investment.

“We think we’re using about $66,000 worth of electricity last year. These lights will use half that much. So we’ll save $33,000 just in energy savings alone. We’ll pay ourselves back for the investment in four years,” Hawkins explained.

That’s not counting lower maintenance costs, Hawkins said. Traditional high pressure sodium bulbs, like the ones currently used in the Homer Harbor, must be replaced every two to five years. Based on current estimates, the lifespan of an LED light bulb is about 15 to 20 years.

Besides the cost savings, Hawkins sa the brighter LED bulbs will help improve security in the harbor.

“What we’re actually doing is we’re watching over hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private property,” Hawkins said.

The ordinance approving the LED light project passed unanimously at the Homer City Council Meeting on Oct. 10. But at least one outside group thinks Homer should proceed cautiously.

Pete Strasser works with the International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit based in Arizona. He’s watched communities across the country make the move to LEDs.

In foggy coastal environments, the glare from high brightness LEDs can be a major issue, Strasser said.

“One of the problems that people discover, usually to their chagrin, is that high brightness white LEDs and fog or haze or snow puts out a tremendous amount of glare,” Strasser said.

Because LEDs produce much more light than older technologies, light pollution is also a big concern.

“The nighttime environment has never had the amount of light that’s going to be thrown at it ever before,” Strasser said.

To help avoid these issues, Homer Port and Harbor has proposed putting a shield around the new LEDs to direct light toward the ground. The shield looks like a baseball cap brim.

But Strasser said that a light shield alone won’t fix the glare issue. One option to reduce glare is to select LED lights with an amber-colored coating.

“That is the perfect locale for amber LEDs. That would essentially be like putting out fog lights to illuminate the area instead of a high brightness white. If they put in high brightness white LEDs on those high masts, the glare would be unbelievable,” Strasser said.

The Port and Harbor Department has not yet made a decision about what type of LED lights will be installed.

Now that the City Council has approved the ordinance, City Manager Katie Koester will issue a formal request for proposals from interested companies.

The installation of the new LED lights in the Homer Harbor could begin as early as spring 2017.

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Shahla Farzan is a reporter with KBBI - Homer. Shahla first caught the radio bug as a world music host for WMHC, the oldest college radio station operated exclusively by women. Before coming to KBBI, she worked at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and as a science writer for the California Environmental Legacy Project. She is currently completing her Ph.D in ecology at the University of California-Davis, where she studies native bees. When she's not producing audio stories, you can find Shahla beachcombing or buried in a good book.

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