WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa moves to slash street-lighting bill



Santa Rosa has been working to slash its PG&E bill ever since the recession knocked its

Santa Rosa city worker Nathan Moore replaces a light fixture at West Steele Lane and Marlow Road with a more efficient induction lamp replacing the high-pressure sodium lamp, June 11, 2012. (JEFF KAN LEE/ PD)

budget’s lights out four years ago.

It started by darkening thousands of its 16,000 streetlights in largely quiet residential areas.

Then it put others on timers, cutting in half the number of hours they were lit each evening on the theory that a little light is better than none.

Now, the city has embarked on the third phase of its energy-saving effort by replacing hundreds of existing streetlamps at intersections with new, super-efficient bulbs that cost less to operate and will last more than three times longer.

Signalized intersections are the focus of the latest effort because turning existing streetlights off isn’t an option for safety reasons. It’s also where the upgrades make the most financial sense.

“The energy bang for the buck is the highest at those locations,” said Steve Kroeck, deputy director of field services for the transit and public works department.

Streetlights aren’t metered like homes. The city pays on a per-pole basis depending on the wattage of the bulb. A 250-watt high-pressure sodium bulb found at many intersections, for example, costs the city $146 a year to operate.

But the new, 150-watt induction bulbs replacing them produce plenty of light but cost $74 annually, a nearly 50 percent savings, said John Miklaucic, a supervising electrical technician.

Total savings from the program isn’t clear because the 775 new bulbs are still being installed, Miklaucic said. But whatever the figure, it’s going to be worth it to the city because $400,000 in federal stimulus money paid for the new bulbs and the labor to install them.

“We wouldn’t have done this on our own dime,” Miklaucic said. “It just wouldn’t have happened.”

The new induction lights cost about $267 each and are similar to florescent lights. The key difference is they don’t contain electrodes that need to spark each time the bulb is turned on. They often are referred to as electrodeless lamps. Instead, light is produced when the mercury vapor inside the lamp is excited by an electromagnetic field created by an inductor outside the bulb.

The light is whiter than that orange-tinted, high-pressure sodium bulbs the city has used for decades, Miklaucic said.

“I think that what catches people’s attention most. The color difference is pretty astounding,” he said.

Part of the $400,000 also is being used to buy and install 1,700 timers for existing lights. Once those are installed, the city expects to cut its $800,000 PG&E streetlight bill in half.

In addition to intersections, induction bulbs are being installed in some locations where it is labor intensive to replace bulbs when they burn out, explained Rick Moshier, director of the transit and public works department.

Parker Hill Road, a winding two-lane road in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, got them because it requires traffic control measures whenever crews have to replace burned-out bulbs, Moshier said. The longer life of the new bulbs mean the city’s workload should be reduced in future years.

The new lights, made in the U.S. by companies based in San Francisco and Irvine, are built to last 100,000 hours.

The goal of the city is to have about a third of its lights turned off completely, a third on timers and the balance replaced with the new induction lights, Kroeck said.

Once the signalized intersections are completed in a few weeks, the city will need to decide how aggressively to swap out the thousands of other lower-wattage streetlamps.

There is an argument to be made to aggressively replace them all, and some cities are doing just that, Moshier said. The benefits include lowering the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But when local tax dollars are paying the tab, the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t pencil out as well and phasing them in over time makes more sense, he said.

“We don’t need to a tizzy and do it all in one year,” Moshier said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.


25 Responses to “Santa Rosa moves to slash street-lighting bill”

  1. Let's be Reasonable says:

    @RC – Yes, not all stimulus is good. The biggest single part of Obama’s stimulus has been tax cuts, and it hasn’t helped. Likewise, the biggest part of our ongoing deficit is Bush’s tax cuts.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  2. Canthisbe says:

    “Europe is going the austerity route”

    Not so much really and where it did (Baltic countries), it worked pretty good. See:

    Paul Krugman and the European Austerity Myth


    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. Reality Check says:


    “What endless stimulus?”

    Budget deficits:

    2009 – $1.5T
    2010 – $1.4T
    2011 – $1.4T
    2012 – $1.2T (Est)

    In 2009 and 2010, foreign buying of treasuries accounted for most of the buying of this additional debt. In 2011, the Federal Reserve simply created electronically 65% of the dollars used to buy our new treasury issues.

    You don’t consider any of that stimulus spending? We do inhabit different planets.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  4. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @GAJ – I was hoping you might chime in on this, having run a business.
    @RC – “And we ought to look at Europe today and ask ourselves if endless stimulus spending with borrowed money is not a path to anything other than ruin?”
    What endless stimulus? We did some early in Obama’s tenure, and nothing has been allowed since. Europe is going the austerity route, and they are seeing 3% contraction, while we are still seeing 1.9% growth. If public sector employment had risen similar to what we saw during the recessions of the last 3 REPUBLICAN presidents instead of the 600,000 cut, unemployment would be closer to 7% now. If we did infrastructure investment, it would be even lower. We need to upgrade the power grid, roads and bridges, schools. These are things that local governments can’t do, especially during recessions. But no, that might help the economy and help re-elect that evil Obama.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  5. Reality Check says:

    To move the discussion along, I’ll grant all the assumptions you make. If the savings are as compelling as you say, then there’s no reason for the city not to bear the entire costs, and the question becomes why didn’t they do it sooner?

    Your original claim was “this is exactly what the Feds should be doing during a recession. . . ” Why? Even if this project has a compelling cost-benefit ratio, it gets lost in sea of others that don’t pencil out, and would never be done by any local govt with their own money.

    In general, federal money distorts local spending to projects the people would not tax themselves to pay for. And we ought to look at Europe today and ask ourselves if endless stimulus spending with borrowed money is not a path to anything other than ruin?

    You can take pleasure in the visible savings this project makes possible; I see the less visible but far larger damage it does to our social fabric and the burden we so easily pass on to the next generation.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  6. GAJ says:

    Unlike so many projects the City and County get involved in this one makes sense and actually has a return on investment and a quick one at that.

    Perhaps they can offer the bulbs they pull out free to local businesses using similar bulbs.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – my hypothetical was meant to put it in terms that a small business owner would understand. When is it time to upgrade equipment? Do you wait for it to break, or do you do it when it makes economic sense. This is calculated based on a Return on Investment (ROI) calculation. different industries use different standards, but on something that will last 100,000 hours, at say 10 hours a day, you are talking about 27 years. An ROI of 1 year, or even 4 years makes perfect sense, even if they only lasted half that long. And we’re not even talking about the labor saved over that period. The reason the City is not taking out a loan and doing this themselves is political, not economics. Mosier was trying to show that he was taking good care of local tax dollars, but the economics of this pen out regardless of who pays for it. I’m also guessing that temporary workers will need to get hired to do the work, since the crews are already overloaded because of layoffs. Another reason why the City may not have wanted to tackle this big a project. And these are American made, so there will be more jobs as a result. So, according to Mosier, the City will save $400,000 in electricity annually as a result of this Federal grant, there will be more jobs, and we can import less dirty electricity. This helps the economy and benefits the environment and pays for itself after one year. After ONE year, this will save taxpayers $400,000 a year in electricity costs alone – how can this not be good!?

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  8. Reality Check says:


    Your hypothetical ignores the point I made and the city official asserted. The economics of this depend on who’s paying. As long as you keep the blinders on and count only local costs, then voila! it’s a win-win for everyone . . . . except of course whoever is left to pay the cost of the money borrowed, upon which the project depends.

    Your calculations, better termed questimates, veer far afield from what we know. As the city official said, but, hey, what does he know, this would normally be phased in over time–if the city was using its own money. Your argument is with him.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  9. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – you didn’t answer my hypothetical. And Moshier said it poorly in the article. The City does not have the money in the budget to lay out this much at one time, but the economics of this are perfectly sound. As you say, looking at the whole article, and you get this:
    Part of the $400,000 also is being used to buy and install 1,700 timers for existing lights. Once those are installed, the city expects to cut its $800,000 PG&E streetlight bill in half.
    So, in effect, this will save the City $400,000 per year, for a $400,000 investment, so the ROI is actually 1 year. These bulbs will last close to 30 years, so the electricity savings alone over that time will be around $12 million in LOCAL TAX DOLLARS. But hey, those liberals are like children and don’t care about things like that.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  10. Reality Check says:


    Did you not read the entire article? Let me help.

    ” . . . when local tax dollars are paying the tab, the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t pencil out as well and phasing them in over time makes more sense . . ” said Rick Moshier, director of the transit and public works department.

    That is, this makes sense only because we’re getting “free” money from the Feds. Is that really free money though? Of course not. Incorporate that cost into the project, to quote the city official, and it “doesn’t pencil out.”

    Sometimes liberals are like children. If mom and dad are paying, actual cost is not a factor.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  11. Lets be Reasonable says:

    1. The City does not have a spare $400,000 lying around, which is why they would have done this at a slower pace.
    2. This is new technology. Prior to this, the City used what was available at the time.
    3. I would guess the City will hold on to some of the replaced bulbs for replacement of similar ones, or if they can afford it, they will switch them out.
    4. The first interesting point you’ve made. But you also need to think beyond the money and look at the energy saved. This will mean California will not need to import as much coal produced electricity in the future.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  12. Lets be Reasonable says:

    Kirstin, RC, so if a manufacturer has a machine that is working, but there is a new machine available that would pay for itself in 4 years, and then after that would provide a 50% savings, you would still have them wait until the first machine broke!? Wow, it would be interesting to see the financial sheets of any businesses you happen to run…

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  13. Canthisbe says:

    “This is employing people and saving money.Please say “thanks” to President Obama.”

    The $400,000 is a transfer from the private sector (the taxpayers) to the public sector. Whether on not it created any net jobs or traded private jobs for government jobs is mostly speculation by the government sector that benefited from the transfer.
    Don’t bother thanking President Obama. He spent your money to support government workers who are a significant part of his base hoping to get re-elected. Thank your kids who will repay the money.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  14. Bill says:

    Another factor that doesn’t seem to be in this equation. The color of the sodium vapor lights cuts through fog whereas the crisp, birght white light does not and will cause quite a glare and a driving hazzard.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  15. Mark Epstein says:

    1. If it does make sense without the federal money, why did it take a “great recession” to get the City off the dime?
    How many federal dollars did it take to “save” $400,000?

    2. Is this an austerity program or is the City admitting that it was wasting energy (wrong bulbs), labor (too many lights/too frequent changes) and overpurchased street lights for years?

    3. What will happen to the street lamps when the recession ends…will we be using these lamps once they burn out, in the timed lighting and/or in the abandoned street lights?

    4. What is the total environmental impact of manufacture, use and disposal of these bulbs? Have we thought through cost of disposal when we declare these savings.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  16. Richard James Emory says:

    This article points out the critical problem of local government. They believe dwhen they spend federal money it is free money that we taxpayers are not going to pay for.

    Wrong, it is borrowed Chinese money that our great, great grand kids will be paying off.

    Street lights are very important and have to be maintained for public safety and security. Santa Rosa’s first problem is that they did not budget for this. Instead they funded a lossing public broadcasting station, an urban trail next to the creek that attracts the homeless, vandals and criminal activity, and a homeless program that does nothing to solve the real homeless problem but allows the council to report that they care and they are doing something.

    The Santa Rosa City Council has been spending our money, not their money, in all the wrong places.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  17. Sharon J. Heaney says:

    My response to this is still the same. The city, our trustees, are expected to act lawfully and with respect to the well being of all citizens, and the fact of abandoning and/or just not turning on our street lamps is not an acceptable reason to pat them on the back when they finally do pay attention to their own safety regulations enacted long long ago.

    My previous post to the actual article was actually nicer: Really? We’re getting street lamps with actually working lights in them? Wow, ya mean our safety means more than those thugs that went running around slashing tires under cover of darkness? Oh wait, weren’t street lamps originally started for safety?

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  18. Follower says:

    I have to agree with you LBR.

    Contrary to popular liberal propaganda, fiscal conservatives don’t think the Government shouldn’t ever spend any money on anything. It should just spend it wisely, that’s all.

    Now I’m sure if I were to see a break down on the $400,000.00 labor cost my blood would boil but at least the project makes sense in the big picture.
    …for a change.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  19. Skippy says:

    And the dark ones stay dark.
    You’re supposed to be happy about this enlightening development.
    News Flash!
    There is no shortage of energy, just a shortage of liberty, capitalism and free enterprise.
    Electric rates would necessarily plummet if the Biggest Big Daddy in DC would announce all areas with oil were now open for drilling.
    Of course, that would require courage, vision and a belief in America.
    Good luck with that fantasy.
    Your Federal and City Big Govt hard at work.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  20. Kirstin says:

    No, LBR. Firstly, this isn’t just a “recession.” It is a mix of recession, depression, inflationary period, etc. and the “ususal” economic formulas are not working. Digging us so deeply into federal debt means having to pay a very big piper — probably sooner rather than later.

    Secondly, even if it were a great idea to finance infrastructure projects with massive debt at this time, replacing light bulbs that still work would not be on my list of appropriate projects.

    Local govenments divorce themselves from the rest of the country, thinking of federal and state (when they can get it) money as “free” or at least as “not city money.” It may seem that way to them, but to the taxpayers everywhere it most certainly is not. All government money has to be paid off by taxapayers in one way or another, be it local, state, or federal, and the City of Santa Rosa had better wrap itself around that concept – fast.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  21. Reality Check says:

    Kirsten, you’ve right to question the wisdom of tossing perfectly good lightbulbs. It makes perfect sense only when the money is someone else’s. And in this case it’s borrowed from a future generation.

    Defenders of this sort of thing believe there is only one route to economic revival, gobs of deficit spending. It’s all they know. Meanwhile, they throw regulatory roadblocks in the path of business and wonder why the economy is punk. Time for a new coach.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  22. bear says:

    This is employing people and saving money.

    Please say “thanks” to President Obama.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  23. Lets be Reasonable says:

    Kirstin, this is exactly what the Feds should be doing during a recession. This is investment that will reap rewards for many years to come. A 4-year ROI is exceptional.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 16

  24. Kirstin says:

    “We wouldn’t have done this on our own dime,” Miklaucic said. “It just wouldn’t have happened.” Instead, the federal debt went up by $400K to allow S.R. to change out light bulbs.

    It is, of course, desirable to be most energy efficient and most cost-effective. But one also must consider the efficacy of removing bulbs that still have “life” in them. What about those? Is replacing them before they have worn out a ecological best move? Wouldn’t it be better to replace them with the new bulbs as they stopped working?

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 7

Leave a Reply