news-dark-sky-post-fullFile photo by Sue Misao

 

BY ANN McCREARY

To protect natural nighttime darkness in the Methow Valley and save energy costs, the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative will replace about 100 street and yard lights with new fixtures that direct light down toward the ground.

The street and yard lights, owned by the co-op, will be changed to LED lighting, which costs less over the long term than conventional lighting, said David Gottula.

“While the LED lighting … costs more initially, it uses 22 percent of the energy of conventional lighting. Because of lower long-term operational costs, OCEC will look at lowering the monthly rental [currently $8 per month per light] once the project is paid for in six years,” Gottula said.

The co-op will replace 50 streetlights in the town of Winthrop, and 50 additional lights that the co-op supplies to people living in outlying areas, Gottula said. The project does not include ornamental lighting in Winthrop, private lights or street lighting in Twisp, which are served by the Okanogan Public Utility District.

The Bonneville Power Administration is contributing $120 per light to the cost of the project as part of the co-op’s energy efficiency program. However, even without that contribution the project pays for itself, Gottula said.

The co-op has ordered 50 of the LED lights. Work on the town lights will be done this winter when crews are not involved in summer line work. Other lights will be installed during the summer and fall, Gottula said.

Dark Sky is the concept of keeping and restoring the natural nighttime darkness, while keeping lighting necessary for safety, security and business.

In many urban areas today, even the brightest objects in the sky, such as the Big Dipper, are not visible because of background light.

Photos taken of the United States from space show dramatic increases in the amount of light generated by humans in recent decades, according to the Dark Sky International Association.

Humans and other animals may suffer damaging effects from unnatural exposure to light at night, according to Dark Sky International. Researchers have found exposure to artificial light affects circadian rhythms in animals and, in humans, the production of melatonin, a hormone linked to cancer prevention.

The solution to light pollution is relatively simple, Gottula said. “The concept of Dark Sky is you shine the light where you need it,” he said.

“As streetlights and yard lights are on all night because of safety, security, business and normal living purposes, using Dark Sky fixtures points the lighting down and not up into the sky. LED lighting, as opposed to traditional lighting, can be designed to shine in a particular direction,” Gottula said.