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.

(11) comments

Carolyn DM

I'm assuming Dalkia is not a NM based business. Was this an open bid project?

Lupe Molina

This project should just be done by now. We might be the City Different but not so different that we can't use precedent from thousands of other cities around the world who have made these conversions already. I think some elected officials like to jump on the coattails of popular hot button topics. But consider that working families in Santa Fe are too busy to attend the exhaustive battery of meetings and public input sessions. Most of us want better lighting, but we don't have the time on our hands to make websites, launch campaigns, and aggressively call elected officials over an issue so trivial. Democracy is about listening to all voices, not just the loud well-funded ones.

Lupe Molina

TL:DR, how many politicians does it take to $crew in a light bulb? (the regular spelling of that word is censored by the paper, lol)

Diane Macinnes

With attention to details, Santa Fe can get this project done well and improve safety while protecting the ambiance which draws people who moved away back home to raise families and start businesses and draws tourists here to support our economy. 2000K lights with proper BUG ratings (Backlight, Uplight, & Glare) provide safety because light will not scatter as much as the blue 3000K-4000k lighting originally proposed. The installed Dalkia models cause disability glare, a serious concern for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. They make it hard for our eyes to adjust to see in the shadows. The 2000K lights installed at the Santa Fe New Mexican at 1 New Mexican plaza also have some glare, but it is far easier to see in the shadows because warmer light does not cause scattering of light the way bluer light does. This is especially important for those over 65 or who have had cataract surgery, a large % of our population. Disability glare causes traffic accidents and prevents us from seeing what dangers lurk in the shadows. We need new lighting in Santa Fe to protect our citizens, our dark skies, and our sense of place. The ambiance of historic Santa Fe is no small thing. It is what fuels our economy. Over the long term LED lights will save money and be an improvement. By choosing proper fixtures, Santa Fe will be safer and more inviting. We need to follow the models of cities like Sedona, Flagstaff, and Tucson and not make mistakes some cities have made by choosing high Kelvin lights which they were forced to retrofit after citizen complaints. Let’s educate ourselves on lighting, work collaboratively with city officials, and do something which will have a positive effect for generations. If you missed the Webinar on Responsible Lighting for Santa Fe, check the Santa Fe Conservation Trust to see a recording in a day or two. You can send questions if there’s something you need clarified and answers will be posted. Let’s all work together for the best outcome.

Philip Taccetta

Well said.

Lupe Molina

I think the argument that 2000 vs 2700 vs 3000 Kelvin lights are going to "draw people who moved away back home to raise families and start businesses and draws tourists here to support our economy." Is frankly a silly argument. Nobody in history refused to visit a city because of the color temperature of their lights.

Richard Reinders

Another "feel good" project that saves the tax payers nothing, The ROI will not be realized before the lamp post and lights would naturally be replaced, and when their replaced they will be replaced with high efficiency fixtures. When the numbers were presented in earlier articles the savings would take decades to payback the change out. When the budgets and economy is tight we should not waste money on "feel good".

Lupe Molina

Your comment appears inaccurate and contradicts what's been presented. Can you show any proof for your argument?

Richard Reinders

Can’t find the article but the electric savings was around $150,000 a year and the cost to do the project is $2.7 million math says it is about almost 2 decades before you see a ROI. The attrition rate for the light fixture is about 20 years? Please show me numbers that are a little more accurate or that proves my statement wrong.

Paul Davis

From this paper a few weeks ago:

"According to a city memo, the nine-month conversion project will save the city $550,000 in electricity bills per year and will reduce energy use by 50 percent to 60 percent. "

Richard Reinders

Paul, Here is the article I was referring to, I am right and wrong because it encompassed other projects

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