Eagle County towns using ‘smarter lighting’ | VailDaily.com

Eagle County towns using ‘smarter lighting’

EAGLE COUNTY — If the streetlights in parts of the Vail Valley look a little different, then it's not your eyes playing tricks on you — it's Xcel Energy and the town governments decreasing energy use and saving money.

As part of the energy company's sweeping initiative to replace some of its older, more energy-hungry lights across the state, Eagle County towns including Vail and, most recently, Minturn, have made 100 percent of their lights dark sky compliant.

"It's just smarter lighting," said Mark Hoblitzell, town of Vail Environmental Sustainability Coordinator. "We're fortunate in our community to still be able to see and enjoy the stars, and it's good to remind people to take advantage of that."

Last year, the town of Vail completed its upgrade of every town-owned and town-managed street light to LED lighting, which uses 60 percent less energy than the previous high-pressure sodium vapor bulbs. The costly project relied on a grant from Xcel Energy.

This year, Minturn recently completed updating all of its street lights in a partnership with Xcel. The energy company has now replaced more than 15,000 lights, saving 28 communities more than $175,000 annually.

"It's up to individual towns to decide what their values are, but I think it's good because we don't have a ton of light pollution anyway," said Minturn Mayor Matt Scherr, who's been an advocate for minimizing light pollution for years.

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Both Minturn and Vail passed ordinances 10-plus years ago specifying that new developments and projects must meet the dark sky code, but old residences and businesses were grandfathered into the ordinance.

DEFINING LIGHT POLLUTION

The International Dark Sky Association is a nonprofit organization that provides guidelines and criteria to preserve and protect the nighttime environment. Light pollution is a result of outdoor lights that are not properly shielded, sending light into the night sky.

In mountain towns, light pollution is much less pronounced than in larger cities.

"Our dark sky viewing is exceptional when it's really dark," said Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail Environmental Sustainability Manager. "All of the things that make our mountain resort what it is, we want to preserve that."

The new LED light bulbs may appear brighter, but they are actually less invasive on the eye when driving or walking, resulting in safer roads.

And the lights are also directional and closed off, meaning they only illuminate what needs to be lit up while maintaining the character of the town.

"You can come and see some of the new construction in town," Hoblitzell said of Vail. "These houses are very well illuminated and very attractively illuminated, but they're not glaring to the eye and spilling light onto neighboring properties."

Both Vail and Minturn town-operated lights are up to dark sky code, but both towns have a few residential areas and businesses that haven't been upgraded.

Other benefits to preventing light pollution include limiting impacts on wildlife. The LED lights will also require less maintenance and last longer than the previous, outdated lights.

Even paths around town, such as Gore Creek Trail, are illuminated to keep the night sky open with balls of light on the ground instead of overhead.

"It makes for a really nice experience because you can still see where you are going but you can also see the stars," Bertuglia said.

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

International dark sky association recommendations

Light spectrum to be a certain level or lower

Lights only on when needed

No “hot spots” — overlapping light from two sources

Only light the area that is needed

Shielding the bulb and making sure there is only downcast light

The light does not go above the 90-degree horizontal plane

The International Dark Sky Association is a nonprofit organization created for education purposes.