Editorial: Lighting switch not necessary

It doesn’t make financial or environmental sense for the city to change plans on outdoor lighting.

The Lawrence City Commission should follow the recommendation of city staff and continue using its current LED lighting for city street lamps, despite an effort by some to get the city to change.

At a meeting tonight, commissioners will consider city staff’s recommendation to continue using LED lighting that emits a blue-rich white light. Some studies have shown that nighttime exposure to blue light is unhealthy, and a group called the Lawrence Alliance for Responsible Lighting is asking the city to consider switching to lighting with a color temperature less than 3,000 kelvins.

Adrian Melott, emeritus professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, is a member of the alliance. He cited a recommendation from the American Medical Association that warns against light with a color temperature higher than 3,000 kelvins because it can disrupt human sleep and disorient some animal species.

Melott added that lower color temperature bulbs are similar in price to the LED brand used in Lawrence, which are 4,000 kelvins.

“It’s typically about 3 percent,” Melott said. “So, to sacrifice the environment, human health and wildlife health for a 3 percent difference is to me not a very good idea.”

But there are varying opinions on the AMA recommendation. The lighting industry has vigorously challenged the accuracy of the AMA’s advisory. And the Department of Energy issued a response that said the effects of exposure to blue light at night also apply to light from television, phone and computer screens and depend on the amount of light and duration of exposure.

City staff said it could be costly to change the lighting now. Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for Westar Energy, said LED lighting is embedded in the street lamps, meaning changing the lighting would require new streetlight fixtures.

Westar owns a majority of the outdoor lighting in Lawrence. Including traffic lights, Westar owns 3,500 lights while the city owns about 800 street, pedestrian or parking lot lights. Westar is also converting to LED lights and is using 4,000-kelvin lights.

Changing the city’s lighting without Westar doing the same would have minimal impact, if any, on Lawrence lighting. The city spent $850,000 on street lighting service in 2017, and staff estimates “the potential for a significant cost impact” if the city were to switch lighting.

As the city considers future street light projects, perhaps there is a different lighting that will better meet Lawrence’s needs. But it doesn’t make financial or environmental sense to switch in the middle of the city’s current project to update its outdoor lighting. The city should thank the Lawrence Alliance for Responsible Lighting for its information, but stick with its existing lighting plans.