By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Miami-Dade elected officials have temporarily disconnected Florida Power & Light from switching sodium-based bulbs to LED bulbs for thousands of streetlights across the county’s unincorporated areas based on the naked eye of County Commissioner Dennis Moss.
On June 4, Moss persuaded 11 of his colleagues to stop FP&L’s bulb replacement project because he and other residents in his south Miami-Dade district have detected dark spots in the spaces between street poles that now have LED bulbs. County commissioners voted 12-0 that work will not resume until an audit identifying every dark spot in neighborhoods where FP&L has already replaced streetlight bulbs is completed.
“The problem as I see it is that the [LED] lights act more like spotlights as opposed to floodlights,” Moss said during the discussion. “It means the light is shining a narrower band, which then leaves dark spots in the streets.”
Moss said he’s seen the effect firsthand because FP&L installed LED bulbs on streetlight poles on his block in Richmond Heights. He explained that the luminosity of sodium bulbs cast a wider glow that overlapped with the luminosity of surrounding streetlights. “You could see the full street,” Moss stated. “In my mind, [LED lights] are creating potential issues in these neighborhoods. We have enough problems with violence and crime. You want to be able to see what is going on.”
Moss’ observations stand in stark contrast with the rationale behind FP&L’s efforts to upgrade its statewide streetlight grid to energy-efficient LED bulbs that aim to produce a better quality of light distribution and focus light in one direction as opposed to emitting light in all directions. Moss did not respond to a Florida Bulldog interview request made through his spokesman, Jamil Rivers.
Facing pressure from homeowner associations and local governments across Florida to replace the sodium bulbs, FP&L received approval from the Public Service Commission in April 2017 to charge customers a fee for installing new LED streetlights. The fee, which covers the rental and maintenance costs of each LED fixture, is added to an association’s or government’s monthly electric bill, or paid through special assessment.
Cost of FP&L switch
Tyler Mauldin, an FP&L spokesman, told Florida Bulldog that the utility company has installed more than 125,000 new LED streetlights statewide. Out of approximately 20,000 LED streetlights FP&L has placed in Miami-Dade, approximately 4,000 are in unincorporated communities that pay special assessments for the installation and maintenance of streetlights, Mauldin added.
According to an FP&L PowerPoint presentation, Florida City, Golden Beach, Miami Lakes, Miami Shores, Miami Springs and North Miami are among the Miami-Dade cities converting to LED lights. Broward cities include Hallandale Beach, Hollywood, Lauderdale Lakes, Miramar, Oakland Park, Parkland, Tamarac, Weston and Wilton Manors
When the project is completed, Miami-Dade will have more than 50,000 LED streetlights with 17,000 committed to unincorporated communities, Mauldin said. “The LED provides a brighter lumens and other benefits include saving on energy costs,” he said. “It is a much better way to go.”
Nevertheless, FP&L last month suspended the LED installation program in unincorporated Miami-Dade and shifted its teams to municipalities and homeowner association communities, Mauldin said. “We are working with [Miami-Dade] to investigate all this,” he said. “And to find ways to mitigate any issues if there are any.”
Robert Holley, a member of the board for the Colonial/Fairway Estates Civic Association in South Miami-Dade, said he and some of his neighbors have noticed the dark spots Moss described in their community. Holley said FP&L is switching 171 streetlights in Colonial/Fairway Estates, a neighborhood of single-family homes and townhouses that runs from SW 152nd Street to 168th Street between U.S.1 and SW 122nd Avenue.
Holley explained that many of the light poles in the neighborhood are about 300 feet apart, which could be the reason why they are seeing dark spots in the spaces between the poles. He said he got wind of the problem from a neighbor who told him she and her husband are now afraid to walk their block at night. “The sodium lighting shot out in all directions,” Holley said. “The LED lighting shoots down and a little bit forward. If the poles are far enough apart, there are dark spots.”
Holley took nighttime photographs of the light poles on his street before and after the bulbs were switched. “The difference is rather remarkable,” he said. “You can see the dark spots Moss was talking about in my photos. I have a feeling this is going to be a major crime issue.”
Miami-Dade began preparing for the switch to LED lights on Jan. 23 when the county commission approved on first reading an ordinance to replace sodium bulbs on 33,000 light poles maintained by FP&L and Homestead Energy Services that illuminate neighborhoods known as street lighting special taxing districts. Assessments would increase by up to 5 percent to put in the new lights, according to a memo from Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The districts, which are home to 234,311 properties, are managed by the Miami-Dade Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces.
During a Feb. 23 meeting of the county commission’s infrastructure committee, the Miami-Dade staffer who oversees the special taxing districts, said that the switch to LED lights would not illuminate darkened areas that existed with the sodium lighting. “If there are currently black spots in a district, this won’t fix it,” said Lorena Guerra-Macias, division chief for the special assessment districts. “But we shouldn’t have more black spots because of this.”
Almost two weeks later, on March 5, the county commission voted 11-0 on second reading, with Moss making the motion, to approve the LED lighting ordinance without any discussion.
During the June 4 meeting, Guerra-Macias said her office had received 26 complaints about the dark spots and suggested that FP&L may be able to mount an additional light fixture to the poles without raising costs. But if fixing the dark spot requires adding another light pole, that would be additional expense to the taxpayers, she said.
At the June 18 county commission meeting, Moss continued his tirade against LED streetlights. He claimed without offering any evidence that dark spots played a key role in gunfire erupting at a neighborhood pool party near his home two days earlier. “The shooters used those dark spots to approach the party,” Moss said. ‘That is not creating a safer environment for the community.”
Guerra-Macias told commissioners that the audit findings would be presented at the July 23 county commission and assured them that FP&L had stopped the installations in unincorporated Miami-Dade.