The dark skies conversation is spreading to the Santa Fe County Commission.
County Commissioner Hank Hughes said he would like the county to examine its buildings to ensure they are in line with the county’s dark skies ordinance.
“A lot of my constituents keep talking to me about the dark skies ordinance and the dark skies laws at the state, and I think there is quite a desire to do something about dimming the lights around Santa Fe County at night,” Hughes said during a commission meeting last week.
Hughes would like to see something put into the county’s strategic plan to address how it could dim lights at buildings that might be causing excess light pollution.
If any buildings are outside the current lighting guidelines, the county would have to pay thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars to bring those buildings into compliance. But it would likely benefit from reduced energy costs on the back end, Hughes said.
“I’m sure it would also save money,” Hughes said, “even though there would be a little bit of an investment to have lights dimmed after a certain hour. I think we would save money in the long run.”
Santa Fe County approved an amended sustainable land development code in 2016 that included updated guidelines for outdoor lighting.
The guidelines keep the county in line with the New Mexico Night Sky Protection Act, signed into law by Gov. Gary Johnson in 1999. But Hughes said there are a number of county-owned buildings that might have been built before the ordinance was approved, and those buildings might not be in compliance.
Older buildings are grandfathered in, county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart wrote in an email.
However, if there is a change in the lighting because of remodeling or additions, those changes would have to meet the latest code.
The city of Santa Fe recently approved a plan to convert its 5,500 streetlights to energy-efficient LED bulbs, sparking debate over which color temperature — measured in kelvin — would reduce energy costs and protect dark skies.
The city opted to hold a series of public lighting installations and set up santafe.dalkiasolutions.com or community members to provide feedback.
The City Council is set to vote on an official design this summer.
Hughes said many of the same people who have been in contact with the city have also spoke to him about the county’s lights since he took office in September.
“I was interested that so many people are concerned about that issue and are willing to bring it up,” Hughes said. “They are very passionate about it.”