The county’s street light replacement project hit a snag this month, when PG&E began installing incorrect LED light fixtures that do not match the model number the county ordered. The installations have been halted while the county waits for PG&E and the lights’ manufacturer to order the correct fixtures, which could result in a delay of two to three months.
The LED lights are part of the county’s effort to reduce carbon emissions and energy use, goals that were outlined in a climate action plan the Board of Supervisors adopted in 2012. The county contracted with PG&E to replace existing sodium vapor streetlights in certain parts of the county with light-emitting diode lights. The new lights decrease energy costs and require less maintenance, contain no mercury, and last at least three times longer than other lights, the county says.
But some worry there’s a dark side to the lights, which can contain high levels of lead and arsenic. They also emit high levels of blue light, which some studies have linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as disruptions to natural sleep cycles for both humans and animals.
In June, the American Medical Association warned of the risks that come with the bright lights.
The potential health concerns prompted Half Moon Bay city staff to pause plans in September to convert more than 200 lights to LEDs.
Despite these concerns, many jurisdictions are moving forward with the lights. San Francisco is converting to LEDs, and San Jose did so in 2013. San Mateo County was moving forward with an independent plan to install LED fixtures in street lights in 11 lighting districts, including three on the Coastside. They encompass Princeton, El Granada, Miramar, Montara, and Moss Beach. It estimates that the conversions will reduce the light districts’ energy usage and CO2 emissions by around 70 percent.
At the Midcoast Community Council meeting last week, county staff notified the council it was temporarily stopping installations. The county had ordered non-standard amber-colored lights that the manufacturer says will take longer to order. But the lights that have already been installed don’t appear to have a lens over them, said MCC member Chris Johnson. He said that makes them “glaringly bright.”
“It’s like having a Xenon light right on you,” he said.
Councilman Dan Haggerty said the new lights produce a bright glow in the sky that wasn’t there before they were installed.
Some council members asked the county to remove the incorrect lights that have already been installed while it waits for the new order to arrive, but county staff says that won’t happen.
“The county is not planning to remove the LED lights already installed while it waits for replacements due to safety concerns of not having street lighting,” wrote Deputy Director of Engineering and Resource Protection Anne Stillman in an email to the Review.
Council member Lisa Ketcham also asked whether the lights could be dimmed or covered to reduce their glare. But Stillman told the Review that the installed lights are not equipped with adjustable power levels, and their power input cannot be reduced.
“Any other actions to lessen the brightness of the lights, such as installing covers, will require substantial lead time for material delivery and installation, which could be the same as for the new fixtures,” she wrote.
The estimated cost to convert the lights in the three county-maintained lighting districts on the Midcoast is around $125,200 said Stillman.