D.C. Approves $309 Million to Replace 75,000 Streetlight Bulbs

The D.C. Council last week green-lighted $309 million dollars to be spent over the next two years on light bulbs. Not just any light bulbs, of course, but LED light bulbs, as in light emitting diode. And not for D.C. office bureaucrats working remotely. These LED lightbulbs will replace 75,000 street lights throughout Washington, D.C., neighborhoods over the next two years.

For over five years, the Georgetowner has been reporting on the District Department of Transportation’s “D.C. Smart Street Lighting Project” various proposals. Test models met some controversies. Many residents living in the testing zones complained that the harsher, bluer lights emitted by the new LED streetlight bulbs were too bright all night long.

“The lights could alter the behavior of plants and animals, and they also drown out the night sky,” reported Dagomar Degroot, a member of the executive committee of Georgetown University’s environmental studies program.

The new light bulbs —  contracted by the city for 15 years with a private company, Plinary Infrastructure D.C (PIDC) – are more efficient, and the light is targeted to streets and alleyways. It is estimated that the new bulbs will reduce energy used for streetlights in half, cutting back some 38,000 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The entire system — that also includes WiFi hotspots — will be continually monitored and maintained by the company, according to the contract. “Replacing street lights with LEDs is a small step toward adapting the city to a new climate reality,” according to Degroot.

This is the first “P3” project to be executed with the city’s first Office of Public-Private Partnerships, that Mayor Muriel Bowser launched in 2015.

The project was criticized by Georgetown resident Bill Dean, CEO of M.C. Dean, Inc., the longstanding contractor for the city’s streetlights. “The proposed streetlight P3 would cost $137 million more than if it were done through a traditional contract where the city financed the costs of the upgrades and maintenance,” Dean told the D.C. Council before members approved the contract. “Our city will be the first city and probably only city to spend this type of money on its streetlight system.”


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