Project aims for ‘greener’ lights

A co-operative of cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties has already come up with one bright idea in their effort to join forces and reduce their contributions to global warming.

Years ago, cities began replacing incandescent bulbs in traffic signals with low-powered light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, which use 80 to 90 percent less electricity and require significantly less maintenance, according to Larry Owens, customer-services manager for Silicon Valley Power. Now, the Joint Venture Climate Protection Project — with almost 40 member cities on the Peninsula — hopes to do the same with the region’s streetlights and other public lighting.

“Some cities on the East Coast are using LEDs in city buildings and parking structures,” said Brian Moura, San Carlos’s assistant city manager. So far, no one’s done it with streetlights. “We could jumpstart a whole industry.”

The Joint Venture Climate Protection Project, launched last May, is charging out of the gate with a number of ideas to reduce carbon emissions regionally. Alone, each city only has so much money to put toward environmental issues, but joining forces should help them do such things as buy hybrid vehicles in bulk, according to Joint Venture chair Russ Hancock.

Early tests of LED technology show that the diodes just aren’t bright enough yet to be used in streetlights, where safety is a concern, according to Owens. While Joint Venture pushes local LED firms to step up the technology, the group will explore adding the lights in parking garages and walkways to save power.

“The promise of LED streetlights for us and a billion other streetlights across the U.S. is that we could save 80 to 90 percent of our energy, and see five to ten times longer life,” Owen said. “Our heart is really set on that.”

Joint Venture cities met Thursday to discuss other plans to get the environmental ball rolling — including a plan for each city to contribute an average of $14,000 to hire consultants to establish the region’s carbon footprint, according to Hancock. From there, cities can work together to reduce their emissions and develop specific strategies for doing so.

“There is enormous desire to do something at the regional level,” Hancock said. “[Climate change] is for real, so what can we do collectively?”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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