A new pilot program from Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OG&E) could make the drive along Phoenix Avenue near the airport a little brighter, even in the dead of night.
Crews from the Oklahoma City-based utility spent Tuesday replacing 28 lighting fixtures along Phoenix with LED lighting at no cost to the city.
According to Rob Ratley, a Fort Smith-based community affairs manager for OG&E, the company approached the city of Fort Smith about doing the pilot.
"We approached them and we're also making (an) application with the Arkansas Public Service Commission to expand this type of lighting throughout the system," he said.
Currently, OG&E services 40 different communities out of its Fort Smith office in four Arkansas counties as well as LeFlore and Sequoyah Counties in Oklahoma.
By replacing older, aging lighting fixtures along Phoenix, Ratley said taxpayers should see savings on the city's utility bill.
“We do expect the cost savings to be significant. And the other savings are in the area of maintenance. These fixtures require a lot less maintenance and have better lighting."
On the standard lighting fixtures, Ratley said maintenance was being done every one to two years.
By replacing the lights with new LED technology, he said the maintenance costs would decrease significantly while the lifespan of the lights would increase significantly.
"On conventional fixtures, you currently have photocells, you have lamps and ballasts. These new fixtures are a self-contained unit, so when one of those go out, we replace the entire unit," he said. "The expected life is quite a bit longer, we're hoping for five to 10 years from each fixture."
The amount of light given off by a single LED light should improve greatly, according to Ratley.
"We feel like it's a better lighting spectrum and that's one reason why we're doing this project is to allow the public to see the difference between the two and that's another reason why we chose this corridor, so they will b able to drive along this roadway, experience the LED lighting and then go a little further and compare it to the high pressure sodium lighting that exists on down the road."
Glenn Gottschalk, lighting project manager for OG&E, said energy savings would be significant, as well. He said existing lights run on about 400 watts of electricity.
"These particular lights, the new LEDs, are only 206 watts, so we're going to be using about half, almost half, of the electricity to turn these lights on as what we've (been using with the) existing (lights)."
The cost of the new lights run about $600 per light, Gottschalk said, while conventional lights run anywhere from $240 to $260.
By using less wattage, he said the cost savings should start to mount fairly quickly for the city.
"It should (pay for itself fairly quickly), yes, definitely. With the cost of the energy being so much less, and the fact that our maintenance should go down because these lights are so dependable."
And it's not just Phoenix Avenue that is getting new light units. According to Ratley, a residential area near Mercy Hospital is also getting the upgrade.
"It's going to be on 74th Street just north of the Mercy Medical Center on Rivera," he said. "We'll be installing five residential lights."
The fixtures in the residential neighborhoods will cost considerably less than the ones on Phoenix, according to Gottschalk.
He said each of the five residential lights will run about $200, while the conventional lights they'll be replacing normally run $75 to $100.
Another pilot program that will be tied to the LED lights, Ratley said, is a smart grid system.
"We just deployed smart grid," he said. "These fixtures will have SIM cards in them that will enable us to communicate with the fixtures as far as maintenance needs and energy usage."
No timeline is available for further deployment of the LED lighting program, Ratley added. He said OG&E should have some idea of a timeline once the application from the Arkansas Public Service Commission is approved.
Ratley also confirmed last week that OG&E is exploring a pilot program to add light fixtures and LED lights to the Garrison Avenue Bridge, though he said only a single meeting has taken place about the possible project.