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The Maui News

April 30, 2001

Check It Out

Reader questions use of `cobra head' lights

Lee Altenberg, a University of Hawaii adjunct assistant professor of information sciences, questions the installation of "cobra head" street lights along Wailea Alanui Drive, saying the Maui County Subdivision Standards Committee recommends against this type of lights.

``This kind of street light costs 30 percent more for electricity to run because that much light is wasted, lighting up the sky and blocking views of the night stars for the bargain,'' Altenberg writes in an e-mail message.

He asks, "Why does MECO (Maui Electric Co.) continue to install energy-wasting street lights that the county must pay more to operate? Can they be stopped before Makena's starry nights are ruined now too?"

There was a conflict between recommendations of the Subdivision Standards Committee and the Maui County Street Lighting Committee when it came to lighting standards, according to Maui County engineering division chief Lloyd Lee.

While the Subdivision Standards Committee recommended fewer and lower-luminosity lights, the Street Lighting Committee favored more and brighter lights to provide for public safety concerns.

The county is establishing a standard for a lower-cost lower luminosity light, Lee said, but it is balancing the concerns for public safety against cost and "waste" light misdirected away from the ground.

Where street lighting had been provided by higher-wattage mercury vapor lights that provide a brighter, white light, the county has agreed to lower-wattage, high-pres- sure sodium lights that are less bright, with shielding that reduces glare into the night sky. The standard is for lights of 100, 150 or 250 watts, depending on location, Lee said.

A key factor in the balancing of cost versus adequacy of light for public safety is Maui County's agreement with Maui Electric Co., which provides and maintains the lights, MECO distribution management supervisor Greg Kauhi said.

Streets lights around Maui County are maintained by MECO under agreements with both the state Highways Division and the county Department of Public Works and Waste Management.

The state and county set standards for lights on public roads, but work with Maui Electric for a standard that applies countywide, Kauhi said.

The intention is to reduce costs for maintenance and replacement. While some older areas are using different lights, Kauhi said the ideal is to have a single type of lighting system to reduce the need for an inventory of many different kinds of lamps, ballasts and other replacement parts.

The state and county do pay for every street light, but the costs have been averaged on a per-light basis. Kauhi said Maui Electric charges an average of $36 a light. It's common-sense economics at work. It would be cumbersome and more expensive to the state, the county and Maui Electric to have meters to measure actual use for every street light.

In setting the flat-rate charge, Maui Electric provides maintenance and replacement services for the lights, Kauhi said. In return, the state and county have agreed to a single type of lighting system; change the lighting standard and costs go up, since it will mean Maui Electric will need to expand its inventory, or the county would need to take over maintenance and replacement.

Where nonstandard lights are installed in a subdivision, the utility and county will not accept them, meaning the homeowners in the subdivision will be responsible for operating and maintaining the street lights.

Lee said the county has asked Maui Electric to reduce glare into the sky by installing shields around older lights and using newer "full cutoff" lights when appropriate in replacing older lamps. The full cutoff lights basically involve a flat lens instead of the rounded lens seen on most lights. The flat lens directs light downward. There is a higher cost, but Kauhi said it's "inconsequential." Kauhi said the flat rate charge is not affected by the wattage requested, since the rate was based on an average. In time, he said, the company also expects to have all of the street lights on the same standard.

"With the fixtures that are already in place, we won't change them if they don't need to be. But if they need to be replaced, then we can change them out to what the county requests," he said.