Questions surrounding a plan to convert 5,500 streetlights to energy-efficient bulbs have prompted one Santa Fe city councilor to request a pause on the project.
During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Councilor Michael Garcia said while he agreed with the merits of the conversion, he was concerned about its rollout and asked Mayor Alan Webber to delay the process until constituent concerns can be addressed.
“We all agree the conversion is a great project,” Garcia said. “But we want to make sure we are implementing a project that we don’t have to go back and fix later.”
In February, the city approved a contract with Dalkia Energy Solutions to convert Santa Fe’s streetlights from high-sodium bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs. The city is expected to recoup costs through energy savings.
The city and Dalkia have installed four demonstration sites, including two — one at Frenchy’s Field and the other on Jaguar Drive — that were staffed by Dalkia and city employees April 23.
But Garcia said the demonstrations left many with more questions when they departed than when they arrived. He also said certain information requested by the public has not been presented.
“There are a lot of challenges that are happening with this process,” Garcia said. “I think it’s appropriate that we hit pause and we address this matter in a way that does the service to the public that they are requesting.”
Public Works Director Regina Wheeler on Thursday said while the city isn’t looking at pausing the process, it is interested in extending the public outreach period to augment the demonstration sites with additional information and equipment.
Wheeler, who attended the Frenchy’s Field event, said she spoke to about 75 people and received immediate feedback from attendees.
The site included marked streetlight poles that didn’t provide information on kelvins, which measure the color temperature of a light. Wheeler said the city declined to provide kelvin data to avoid influencing attendees’ reactions. The city intends to release additional information about each pole in the project’s second newsletter.
Wheeler said it will take a few weeks to install the additional equipment, adding she would prefer to give the community the opportunity to take in the new demonstration sites before agreeing to any large-scale timeline change.
Wheeler said the Public Works Department is exploring sending staff to the demonstration sites again, likely May 14.
She did acknowledge upgrades to the sites would likely push back a City Council vote on the final design to June 7.
The process has led to some opposition, including from dark-skies advocates who raised concerns the new lights would negatively affect Santa Fe’s evening vistas. Others have said higher-kelvin lights can lead to disrupted sleep patterns and other health effects.
In response to concerns over Santa Fe’s skies, the city has been working with the International Dark-Sky Association to ensure it is designated a dark-sky city.
After hearing Garcia’s comments at Wednesday’s meeting, Webber said he was interested in providing “more and better information” about the street lighting project, adding he believed the city should “go back and assess” how to get that information out to the public.
“I think if we all had the same facts in hand, that would really simplify some of the conversations that [are] being had right now,” Webber said.