Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission is quietly improving the city’s night scene by lighting it up. Bright LED street lights are replacing older fixtures. It’s taking time and a lot of money. “In the coming fiscal year alone PWC will spend $7.3 million in thoroughfare, street and area lighting,” said PWC General Manager David Trego. The LED lights being installed were chosen following consultation with Fayetteville Police after a downtown pilot test project. Trego says the return on investment will break even in five years once the installation is complete because of the more efficient and longer lasting LED lights. PWC began installing the new lights in 2014. Trego says the project should be completed by 2021 at a total cost of $41 million.
Unfortunately, not all areas of the city will benefit from the upgrade. Another unintended consequence of the ‘big bang’ annexation several years ago was that areas formerly in the county are not being upgraded because the city-owned utility does not serve those areas. The N.C. Utilities Commission protects the investments of the power companies that provided electricity there prior to annexation. City Councilman Chalmers McDougald asked Trego about that. McDougald represents some of the areas served by Duke Energy Progress as well as Lumbee River EMC and South River EMC. Thousands of residents are on those electrical power systems that are now inside the city limits. “The street lights out there are 40 years old,” McDougald said.
That is no exaggeration. Duke Energy says about 25 percent of its outdoor lights use obsolete mercury vapor fixtures, identifiable by their cool, bluish light. Most of those fixtures were installed decades ago and have long since come to the end of their useful life. PWC replaced mercury vapor lights years ago with brighter sodium vapor lights which have also become obsolete. PWC’s Trego said he will invite representatives of the electricity providers which serve annexed areas of Fayetteville to come to a community meeting. McDougald’s hope is the three companies will adopt a mutually agreeable program to upgrade their street lights. They’ll also be asked to add additional utility poles which currently are much farther apart than those on the PWC system.
“LED lights last for 17 years at one half the cost of sodium vapor fixtures,” said Trego. In 2014, Duke Energy Progress said it had launched initiatives to modernize outdoor lighting across its service area. It received approval from the Utilities Commission to replace more than 100,000 mercury vapor street and area lights with LED fixtures. The project is part of the utility’s Lighting Modernization Program in its North Carolina service area which apparently hasn’t reached suburban Fayetteville. The utility has also proposed a replacement plan for its customers in South Carolina.