LED lighting for utilities has reached a tipping point.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 3 million LED street lighting fixtures were in use in 2013, representing 14 percent of the total. Today, the number has topped 13 million, or nearly 30 percent, and DOE projects the highly efficient fixtures will account for 100 percent by 2030.

Electric cooperatives, in partnership with NRECA, began field demonstrations of LEDs in 2008. These provided valuable input about LED life, color, brightness, and public opinion, says Brian Sloboda, program and product line manager with NRECA’s Business and Technology Strategies unit.

“Over the last decade, we have seen numerous co-ops adopt LED technology as a way to save energy, reduce costs on maintenance, and offer members greater choice in lighting design,” he says.

Early co-op adopters began LED switchovers on street and security lighting around 2012, generally timed to five-year inspection and replacement cycles. Primary justifications included lower costs, lower energy use, and darker night skies.

New Hampshire Electric Cooperative launched its LED fixture conversion in early 2012, becoming the first utility in the Granite State to make a formal switch to the technology.

The Plymouth-based co-op completed a four-phase conversion for North Conway Township, which the co-op serves. After receiving complaints that the first 67-watt LED fixtures were too bright, the co-op switched to 42-watt fixtures.

Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, Peninsula Light Company—a distribution co-op in Gig Harbor, Washington—examined products from several manufacturers before selecting a vendor and plotting a course to replace 1,800 high-pressure sodium units in 2015.

“The initial driver was a request from one of the communities we serve to help them reduce energy costs,” says Jonathan White, director of marketing and conservation for Peninsula Light, or PenLight. “Additional incentives included reducing service calls and purchased-power costs.”

PenLight is filling all new lighting requests with LEDs. Crews began replacing security lights by substation and feeder in early 2016, and key account managers are working with homeowners’ associations and developers on volume deployments.

White says the changeouts pay off over time, but they come with upfront costs.

“The annual energy savings for 1,800 high-pressure sodium fixtures is about $15,000,” he says, adding that recovering the co-op’s costs would take more than 30 years. “If it was simply screwing in an LED, the savings would be great, but mobilizing a bucket truck and lineman—you have easily expensed over $300 including the price of the new fixture.”

More Light for Less

Some co-ops that provide street lighting in their communities are making the transition to LEDs to provide long-term savings to members who also pay local taxes to support basic services.

“We have replaced all of the street lights in the three communities we serve with LEDs,” says Brian Jeremiason, manager of marketing and external relations at Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative in Tyler, Minnesota. “Our deployment has been well-received. We’ve expanded the project and are now offering the LEDs as yard lights for members at a discount.”

Reduced service calls, longer product life, and energy savings have driven the transition at Lyon-Lincoln. While the co-op still offers high-pressure sodium and metal halide bulbs for its existing fixtures, only LEDs are available to new signups, Jeremiason says.

Co-ops offering LED security fixtures say members appreciate the lower monthly energy costs, the brighter white light at ground level, and the overall reduction of ambient light beyond targeted areas.

Okanogan County Electric Cooperative in Winthrop, Washington, completed conversion of 100 street and yard lights in early 2014, opening up the night sky over its service territory in the Cascade Mountains.

“We’ve dramatically reduced light pollution by using dark-sky-compliant LED lighting fixtures,” says David Gottula, general manager of the co-op. Bonneville Power Administration, the co-op’s power supplier, picked up most of the costs of the fixtures under an energy conservation program.

Okanogan County Electric anticipated lower maintenance costs and energy use, which will result in lower rates for the lights.

“We have had one failure in three years,” Gottula says, adding that shelves once loaded with various spare lighting components have been replaced with just a couple of fixtures.

Okanogan County Electric’s street and security energy use has declined by 78 percent. The co-op also sells the fixtures to members at a small markup and installs them at cost.

Reduced costs and operational efficiencies were also an attraction for High West Energy, based in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. The co-op had to meet the needs of the Department of Defense on an LED conversion at Wyoming’s F.E. Warren Air Force Base (WAFB), and the project included six fixture designs across the sprawling base.

“We made the change in 2013 and 2014 to lower maintenance costs,” says Marv Powell, the co-op’s safety director and WAFB operations manager. “We’ve replaced all 1,500 fixtures, and power consumption for street and security lighting is down 50 to 70 percent. The maintenance on these fixtures went down 25 percent upon completion of the project.”

G&T Incentives

Jackson County REMC in Brownstown, Indiana, is working with its power supplier, Hoosier Energy, to replace all 100-watt high-pressure sodium fixtures in its service territory.

Nearly 2,000 of the 6,800 active sodium fixtures on the co-op’s lines have already been replaced with help from incentive payments from the G&T.

“Members like the ‘white’ light versus the ‘orange’ light,” says Mark McKinney, general manager of Jackson County REMC. “We have received very few negative comments, but several positive ones.”

All of Hoosier Energy’s member distribution co-ops are participating in the G&T’s incentive program to hasten the switch to LEDs. The rebates are available only on fixtures and lighting systems certified under the nonprofit DesignLights Consortium product list.

Singing River Electric Power Association (EPA) of Lucedale, Mississippi, began replacing 15,000 fixtures in 2016.

“At this time, 100 percent of our new-residence outdoor lighting installations are LED,” says Brian Hughey, CEO and general manager of Singing River EPA. “As of December 2017, Singing River has installed over 4,700 LED lights in the system.”

The co-op is now moving ahead with its roadway and directional lighting LED deployments, Hughey says. “We have found that most members prefer the new LED outdoor light compared to the old style high-pressure sodium fixtures.”

Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative in Lihue, Hawaii, completed the replacement of 3,500 fixtures owned by Kaua‘i County and the state in early 2016, says Beth Tokioka, the co-op’s communications manager. “The street light conversion is expected to save the county about $500,000 annually on power use for its 2,900 street lights.”

Acceptance of the technology extends well beyond street and security lighting as new and better products are introduced. The future of LED lighting is even brighter as the technology has improved, with long life, more colors, and more controllability options, NRECA’s Sloboda says.

“LEDs have been used in applications to improve quality of life, facility security, animal productivity, and workplace comfort,” Sloboda says. “LEDs are expected to see incremental improvement in the future. But today’s products are effective.”