By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Another resident has come forward with concerns about the city’s LED streetlight conversion project, just as staff are seeking more money to finish the multi-million dollar transition.
At the most recent meeting of the community services committee, councillors heard from resident Roxanne Miller, who said she knew from the project’s start that the lights would be too much. She described a “sinking, sick feeling” in her gut as they were being installed near her home, and when the lights eventually switched on, she was “horrified.”
“This has been wreaking havoc,” she said of the impact the lights have had on her life.
Miller notes that LED lights impact not only people’s circadian rhythmns (natural sleep cycles), potentially leading to health issues, but can also impact the cycles of nocturnal plants and animals.
Miller explains that, as an aboriginal woman, the impacts to the natural world are particularly distressing to her.
She was also surprised to learn that there had been no public consultation ahead of the new lights being approved, and noted that being away from Toronto, Oshawa should be glad to have such darkness at night.
“Oshawa should be honoured to have access to such night sky views,” she said.
Upon completion of her presentation, in which she handed out several articles and research backing up her claims of the harmful effects of LED lights, there were no questions from members of the committee, who then forwarded her statements to staff.
Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, who was not a member of the committee but in attendance as a visiting member, questioned the responses that many supporters of the LED lights have used, such as likening the lights to those of a TV or a cellphone and the suggestion for people who are impacted by them to buy thicker curtains to block out the light.
“I really don’t want to be dictated on how I have my house decorated or how I use my time at my windows,” Miller replied.
Speaking after the meeting, McQuaid-England said she was disappointed with the committee’s response.
“I was hoping that committee would take more interest in the concerns a resident raised over LED street lighting,” she said. “I was disappointing that councillors did not ask one question and simply referred her concerns to staff for a direct response. It gives the impression community services does not want to deal with the fallout of unhappy residents who are having issues with the new lights.”
However, Councillor Bob Chapman, the committee’s chair, says this isn’t the case.
“There have actually been very few complaints about the LED lights and there have been some compliments,” he states in an emailed response. “Regarding not wanting to deal with unhappy residents, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Chapman adds that by sending the issue to staff, it allows the issues of residents to be handled quicker.
“They know the program and are in contact with the experts we contracted in this matter. I think they will know what can be done to address the resident’s complaint,” he states.
“We have done referrals on many matters and it doesn’t indicate we don’t want to deal with an issue, but rather allows staff to address resident concerns quicker than reporting back to us on what they can do which of course is also more efficient.”
Miller’s concerns are also not the first that have come forward regarding the city’s LED light project. In February, a resident wrote to councillors addressing concerns with the way the lights were installed, and how they created a safety issue by leaving deep shadows between posts and over portions of the road.
The concerns also come at a time when staff are seeking an additional $52,000 to install 14 new poles that were missed in the initial audit completed by RealTerm Energy, the city’s partner in the project.
A recent report also explains staff have worked with residents through the project, which is now 95 per cent complete.
“Working with Realterm Energy, staff have been able to respond to requests from residents for numerous street lighting improvements. During this project, staff have been able to improve lighting quality and safety for residents by reviewing existing street light designs and add additional streetlights as required,” the report reads.
The document also states the city has already realized “significant cost savings” on a monthly basis because of the new lights, and requests for service have also dropped “significantly.”
A request from The Oshawa Express to clarify the dollars saved, the amount of requests and the amount of additional poles that have been installed was not returned as of press deadline.
The city plans to take the dollars for the additional lights from the Federal Gas Tax reserve.
All in all, the LED conversion project came with a total cost of more than $8.4 million, and will see all of the 12,000-plus current high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights in the city’s street lamps replaced with the new energy efficient and durable LED lights.
Although the cost is hefty and saw Oshawa obtain a large chunk of debt to be paid off over the next decade, an initial report estimated the new lights would save the city approximately $1.4 million annually in energy costs, most of which will go toward covering the entire cost of the debt payments and the remaining savings to be applied to the city’s operating budget.
Previously, Oshawa’s lights required more than 9 million kWh of electricity a year to operate. With the new LED lights, which come with a 10-year warranty, they require about 5.6 million kWh, a saving of approximately $1.25 million per year. The remaining cost savings are in the form of maintenance, reduced by more than $173,000 annually.