As Detroit sues over failing LED streetlights, Windsor's are working just fine

From 2014 to 2017, Windsor and Detroit replaced its orange-hued high-pressure sodium streetlights with nearly 87,000 new light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures.

65,000 lights were installed by Detroit's Public Lighting Authority, and roughly 22,000 by Enwin Utilities, which maintains streetlights for the City of Windsor.

When Detroit completed its conversion in 2016, it was hailed as a success in the city's turnaround efforts.

But just three years after the completion of the $185 million (U.S.) program, officials in Detroit say some of the lights are prematurely dimming and burning out in parts of the city — and thousands more could fail.

Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via AP
Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via AP

The Public Lighting Authority filed a lawsuit this week in federal court against California-based Leotek Electronics USA, which manufactured one-third of the city's lights. The Detroit News reported problems were discovered last fall with units which were "charred, burned, or cracked."

The units were supposed to last at least ten years. Leotek has acknowledged problems in a letter to the lighting authority, apologized and pledged to work with Detroit to correct problems.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says it will cost up to $9 million to fix thousands of failing LED streetlights in Detroit, but repairs will be done as reimbursement is sought from the manufacturer.

Windsor used different supplier

Windsor, on the other hand, is not experiencing any major issues with its LED lights, with fewer than 100 fixtures requiring warranty work.

What colour temperature are our lights?

LED lighting comes in a variety of different hues, known as "colour temperatures," with lower numbers being perceived as more yellow/orange, and higher numbers being more blue. For home use, LED bulbs are generally sold in in 2700K, 3000K and 5000K varieties.

Windsor's LED streetlights are 4000K.

According to Enwin vice-president and chief operating officer John Wlardski, Windsor purchased its lights from Nova Scotia-based LED Roadway Lighting, which has manufacturing facilities in Canada as well as Brazil, the United Kingdom, China and the Caribbean.

Lighting from Leotek Electronics was never under consideration. In fact, Wlardski told CBC News he had not heard of the company until the Detroit issues surfaced.

"I'm pleased to report that [our lights are] performing just as we expected on a couple of fronts,' he said. "First of all, we don't have failures ... and secondly, in terms of energy consumption, we're achieving the reduction in energy use."

Shane Kimbrough/NASA/Twitter
Shane Kimbrough/NASA/Twitter

Wlardski said they originally expected a 40 per cent saving in energy costs — but have actually experienced a reduction of "upward of 60 per cent."

The cost of converting to LED streetlights in Windsor was roughly $16 million. A provincial energy rebate covered approximately $2 million, with Windsor paying for the rest.

The city expects to recover that cost soon, as the reduced energy consumption of the new lights means its annual electricity bill has been reduced by $2.7 million dollars.

Some teething problems

Unlike Detroit, which also installed new poles, Windsor installed its fixtures — which have a ten year warranty — into existing infrastructure. As a result, Enwin experienced some problems with lights flashing or turning off entirely.

The Enwin VP said this was not the fault of the LEDs but rather an issue with the power being supplied to the pole.

"All these light fixtures have an electrical supply ... that comes in the form of a cable," Wlardski said. "If those connections are faulty, it'll cause a voltage fluctuation. LED fixtures ... are [more] sensitive to voltage fluctuations [than the older lights.]"

Wlardski says all the "weak points" in the system have since been resolved.

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