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City Sheds (LED) Light
Riverbank's street lights will be brighter and its citizens' wallets heavier once the city has finished installing new lights throughout the town.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company contractors started work Wednesday replacing the current street lights with the revolutionary light emitting diode (LED) system that will not only bring brighter light and cut carbon dioxide pollution but save the city an annual $60,000 in energy costs plus another $40,000 in unnecessary maintenance per year.

The program is mainly the brainchild of Community Development Services supervisor Mike Riddell, who engineered installation of a similar system in Ceres last year just before he was hired by Riverbank in December.

"To try the system, drive over the Whitmore overpass in Ceres," he said.

Ceres was the first city in Stanislaus County to get the LED light system to his knowledge. But that city had to take out a loan whereas Riverbank has won a federal grant of $539,614 to fund the system here.

"We were able to get the grant (through the California Energy Commission) because the LED system is very efficient, it's go green technology and will reduce our carbon footprint," said Riddell.

The funding will cover replacing all 911 high pressure sodium and mercury vapor lights throughout town including those belonging to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) along the Highway 108 corridor. Sixty percent of the city's street lights belong to Pacific Gas & Electric and 40 percent to Modesto Irrigation District. But PG&E will hire and supervise the contractors to do the work.

"The energy savings will be about $60,000 in the first year," said Riddell, "and we aim to save another $40,000 a year on the maintenance they won't need. The LED lights will last a minimum of 20 years."

Their light is whiter and brighter and more even than the current available systems of high energy sodium, mercury vapor or induction. The police love them, he added, because witnesses at a crime scene see and report so much more detail even to the exact color of a suspicious vehicle at night.

They also emit less heat than the old-style lamps. PG&E started developing LED lights about 12 years ago, and then began collaborating with the worldwide company of BETA to eliminate an excessive heat problem.

Once the new street light system is operational it can be refined with details like adding a central computer which could dim them (and therefore save energy and money) for example, from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Another possibility is having a 911 emergency call operator signal the light at a possible crime scene to start flashing so the police could home in rapidly on its beacon.

"We could cut our energy use by 60 to 75 percent," said Riddell.

American Resources Recovery Act funds are included in the grant so all the components installed must be American made.

PG &E is under a strict timeline to complete change out of the light fixtures by Sept. 14, but expects to finish the work by the first week in August. Working with two or three crew at one time, they already had 300 lights changed in the first week.

Turlock also has experimented with LED lights for its street lights but that city used a mixture of LED and common fluorescent fixtures.

Contractor Mike Farrell, who was changing lights along Oakdale Road south of Morrill Road on Friday, said he's already heard comments from residents on the brightness of the new lights.

"After I've finished, you'd better put on your sunglasses even at night when you drive through here. It will be that bright," he said.

Holding the bulb from an old-style light he had removed, Farrell noted it contains mercury that causes pollution when it ends up in a landfill. But the new LED lights have no poisonous substances in them.

He also showed off a light fixture in which a bird had built a nest of dry grass. It was not an unusual find. When he and other contractors come across a nest containing eggs or baby birds in the spring, they simply pass by it and come back later after the nesting season to change the fixture.