The Santa Fe City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved lighting designs for its controversial streetlight project, despite calls for the city to pause the project and hire an independent lighting consultant.
For the past three months, the city has debated the proper lighting specifications as it works to replace roughly 5,600 high-pressure sodium streetlights with energy-efficient LED bulbs.
The City Council approved a proposal that set lighting standards at 2,700 kelvin — a measurement of the color temperature of a light source — on residential roads and 3,000 kelvin on major thoroughfares. The design also included dimming technology to allow the city to adjust output.
Originally, the city discussed lights at around 3,000 kelvin on residential streets and local roads, and 4,000 on major arteries.
According to a city memo, the designs would reduce energy consumption by over 60 percent and the overall lumen budget by over 50 percent. The energy savings will pay for the conversion.
“I think this is really exciting we’re taking all this on,” Public Works Director Regina Wheeler said. “We have the funding, we have the partners, and now I think we [have] a solution that really meets the needs.”
The vote allows the city to amend a contract with Dalkia Energy Solutions approved in February. Dalkia worked on Albuquerque’s streetlight conversation project in 2015.
Some Santa Fe residents have complained about the process, criticizing it as rushed and opaque. During Wednesday’s public hearing, some members of the public requested the city hire an independent lighting consultant to oversee the project.
Councilor Michael Garcia made a motion to pause the process and hire a consultant, but the motion was voted down.
Wheeler said it’s not common for the city to hire an outside contractor to oversee another contractor’s work. Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth said she didn’t think the city needed a contractor to tell them what they already know — that 2,200 kelvin lights won’t work for the city.
Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler said she considered the streetlight project to be a “little different.
“This is a process we are going through which [affects] everyone in our city,” Vigil Coppler said. “Not every public works projects affects everyone in our city to this degree.”
Mayor Alan Webber said he would be interested in bringing in a consultant to measure “sky glow,” a concept raised during the meeting by Ruskin Hartley, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association.
Wheeler said the city’s team was committed to finding the lowest kelvin possible, but anything lower than 2,700 kelvin was not feasible.
Jean-Christophe Florenson, vice president of business development for Dalkia, said the company could not find a 2,200-kelvin light that would have the same level of energy savings, as well as a warranty required by the financing agreement.
A representative for Public Service Company of New Mexico — which owns around 2,100 lights in the conversion project — also said the utility company does not have an approved vendor that provides 2,200-kelvin lights.
Earlier in the evening, council members shot down a request from Garcia that the item be pulled from the agenda.
Garcia said he was concerned the equipment information provided in the financing agreement that went through the committee process was not the same as the one that made it to the full City Council.
He said he found the process to be potentially “unethical” and asked for the project to return to the committee process.
City Attorney Erin McSherry warned of calling city staff or fellow councilors unethical, stating it could be perceived as defamation. She also added that city statute allows for timing concerns when items skip the committee process, but when the project was initially approved in February, it was with the caveat it would return to the mayor and City Council.
“Making remarks about staff having made ethical violations is definitely defamation and you absolutely should [ask] for an opinion from the ethics and campaign review board before making those sorts of allegations,” McSherry said. “That is very serious.”
Wheeler said the first payment on the loan is in December, and if the project is paused, there might not be enough energy savings to make the payment.
“We do have a significant financial constraint and time constraint, which is the first payment on this debt services due resulting from the energy savings resulting from swapping out the streetlights,” Wheeler said. “At this point, we will have some of them swapped out by [then], but we will probably have enough to pay. If we delay, then we won’t have enough.”
Wheeler previously said the timeline of the project was not tied to the repayment schedule and the payment would likely be covered through cost savings stemming from the city’s larger solarization plan.
Vigil Coppler said she wouldn’t mind if the item returned through the committee process.
“I think vetting something this big, something with such public interest, deserves another go-round with exactly what information we are looking at,” Vigil Coppler said.
The project is scheduled to be completed in January.