news-dark-sky-post-fullBY ANN McCREARY

Protecting the Methow Valley’s night skies from light pollution is a new initiative of the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative.
Co-op Manager David Gottula will explain what the co-op is doing to lead a new “Dark Sky” project in a presentation at the co-op’s annual meeting on Monday (April 15) at the Winthrop Barn.
Gottula said he became interested in the Dark Sky concept while working for an electric utility company in Alamogordo, N.M. On nearby mountains were observatories used by space scientists who needed a sky free of background light to conduct their work.
“We worked closely with the observatories to install dark sky-compliant lighting,” Gottula said.
Photos of the United States taken from space show dramatic increases over the past 75 years in the amount of light generated by humans. In many urban areas even the brightest objects in the sky, such as the Big Dipper, are no longer visible because of background light.
Gottula said the problem can be addressed relatively easily. It’s not a matter of eliminating exterior lighting, but using only light that is necessary and using recessed lights that are directed down toward the ground, rather than up toward the sky.
“The concept of Dark Sky is you shine the light where you need it,” Gottula said.
The co-op will have a display from the International Dark Sky organization at the annual meeting. The display explores the issues of nighttime lighting, security and safety, and the effects of light pollution on the environment.
Scientists have found that humans and other animals can suffer damaging effects from unnatural exposure to light at night, according to the International Dark Sky organization. Here in the Methow Valley, Gottula noted, the recent controversy over a navigational beacon at the Methow Valley State Airport outside Winthrop demonstrated the depth of emotion generated by light pollution.
Gottula said the co-op wants to provide leadership through communication, education and example. As part of setting an example, the co-op has installed a prototype street light in its parking lot that uses an LED bulb that is recessed into the fixture and directs light downward.
The co-op is also proposing to replace more than 50 street lights in Winthrop and 30 exterior lights on private property, which are maintained by the co-op under contract, with dark sky-compliant lights. Using more energy-efficient LED bulbs will reduce power consumption, and replacing existing lights with a design that directs light down toward the street will help reduce light pollution, Gottula said.
Because of the energy savings from the LED lights, the co-op expects to receive financial assistance from the Bonneville Power Administration for the project, Gottula said.
In an example of “only use it if you need it,” the co-op has turned off bright lights at its West Chewuch substation, Gottula said.
In addition to the Dark Sky presentation, the annual meeting will also include elections for the board of directors. Three seats are up for election and one candidate is running unopposed for each position.
John Kirner of Mazama is a candidate for the District 1 seat, Curtis Edwards of Winthrop is a candidate for the at-large seat, and incumbent Paul Taylor, who serves as board president, is seeking re-election to the District 3 position.
Ballots were mailed to members last month, and must be returned by the close of business on April 16.  They can be mailed, brought to the annual meeting, or dropped off at the co-op.
The annual meeting begins with registration at 6 p.m., and the meeting program starts at 7 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast live on the Internet at www.okanoganelectriccoop.com.