Energy grants will fund street light upgrades, updates in schools

EVERETT — More than $330,000 in state energy efficiency grants is being used for streetlight upgrades in southwest Snohomish County and elementary school updates in Stanwood.

Snohomish County plans to use a $132,453 grant to replace hundreds of street lights with more energy efficient bulbs this year.

The Stanwood-Camano School District landed a $205,000 grant through the same program to upgrade systems at two elementary schools this summer.

The grants are part of $10.6 million given out by the state Department of Commerce earlier this month. The money went to 52 groups: 32 local governments, four state agencies, eight school districts and eight colleges or universities.

The state’s energy efficiency and solar grants program started in 2010 as part of the Jobs Act. Since then, money has gone to 221 projects.

The money only can be used for energy efficiency projects or installing solar panels.

Snohomish County workers expect to replace high pressure sodium lights with LED bulbs in about 400 street lamps. It should save the county $33,000 a year by reducing the amount of power needed for those lights by an estimated 70 percent, said Doug McCormick, interim director of the county’s Public Works Transportation and Environmental Services Division.

The grant covers more than half of the $256,000 cost. Officials anticipate a $91,000 rebate from the Snohomish PUD, so the county’s share of the cost is about $33,000.

Street lights are being updated mostly at major intersections or along busy roads in southwest Snohomish County. That includes Cathcart Way and 164th and 128th streets west of I-5. There are about 100 lights on Cathcart way alone, said Tim Roff, a county traffic signal technician and electrician.

“Street lights don’t get noticed much but it is a big energy draw for us,” Roff said.

The LED lights have a 20-year life expectancy before they need to be replaced, he said. There are no moving parts and they don’t heat up like older light bulbs do.

The LED lights also give off a whiter glow and tend to light the road more evenly, which means less light pollution and better visibility, McCormick said. The high pressure sodium lamps contain mercury and must be disposed of as a hazardous material. LED lights do not contain mercury.

All of the new lights are expected to be installed this year.

Officials in the Stanwood-Camano School District plan to use their $205,000 grant to support previously planned energy conservation projects at Stanwood and Twin City elementaries along with smaller projects at several other schools. Work plans include updating the heating, ventilation, plumbing and lighting systems at the elementaries. The district is working with the state Department of Enterprise Services and a contractor, the McKinstry Company, to do the work this summer.

The district is paying $1.1 million out of a $29 million facilities and technology levy passed by voters in 2013. The projects were planned as part of the levy request but the state grant allows the district to stretch the money further, said Gary Platt, executive director of business services.

The project is expected to create a better environment in the classroom with more dependable and higher quality systems, including ventilation, Platt said. The district calculates that it would use 609,000 less gallons of water per year with the upgrades and continue reducing the cost of utilities, which are expected to drop from more than $1.2 million six years ago to less than $850,000 in the current budget, Platt said.

Work is expected to start after June 15, the last day of school for Stanwood and Camano students.

The next round of grants for the state energy efficiency and solar program is expected to start in spring 2017.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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