City leaders to consider installing warmer-colored LED streetlights going forward

City leaders will decide whether the city should opt to install warmer-colored streetlights going forward.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider pursuing an agreement with Westar Energy to install warmer-colored LED bulbs in the streetlights operated by Westar, instead of the whiter LEDs currently being installed. Westar has recommended against the warmer-colored LEDs, and would require the city take on liability if they were to be used, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The rates Westar charges the city to operate and service the lights would not change, according to the memo.

The city pays Westar to operate the majority of the roughly 5,000 streetlights in Lawrence, and Westar engineers previously told the commission that the company had selected the whiter-colored LED bulb for streetlights because it provides the best traffic visibility. But some studies have indicated that the bright white light can create glare for drivers and that the unseen blue wavelengths in the light can be harmful to both people and animals.

In February, the commission voted to pursue the installation of warmer-colored LEDs, with a color temperature under 3,000 Kelvin, for both city-owned streetlights and those operated by Westar going forward. Both the city and Westar have been replacing streetlight bulbs with LEDs with a color temperature of 4,000 Kelvin. Prior to the commission’s February decision, city leaders heard concerns from some residents that the blue-white LEDs currently being installed negatively affect human sleep patterns, driver visibility and habits of nocturnal animals. A local group, the Lawrence Alliance for Responsible Lighting, has pointed to a recommendation from the American Medical Association, based on multiple studies, that specifically warns against light with a color temperature higher than 3,000 Kelvins.

Westar engineers cited a study by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance that indicated 4,000 Kelvin LEDs provide the highest detection distance for drivers and pedestrians. Westar has said that the company uses the 4,000 Kelvin LEDs for all the cities it services and that it would deem the 3,000 Kelvin LEDs nonstandard. However, Westar has offered to install 3,000 Kelvin LEDs going forward as long as the city indemnifies Westar from any liability resulting from accident claims attributed to the use of “nonstandard” streetlight fixtures.

Following the February meeting, the city sought advice from an attorney with experience in utility regulatory matters to see if it could compel Westar to install the warmer-colored streetlights. The attorney, Thomas Wright, said that the city’s tariff agreement with Westar states that Westar determines which light fixtures are standard and that the city could not compel Westar to install bulbs it has deemed nonstandard.

As an alternative to the indemnification agreement, the memo states that Westar would entertain an offer for the city to purchase the streetlights currently owned by Westar. City staff are not recommending that option at this time because of the immediate and long-term costs of doing so, according to the memo. The memo states that if the commission votes to proceed with Westar’s proposal, staff from the city attorney’s office would work with Westar’s attorneys to prepare a liability agreement acceptable to both parties.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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