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FP&L switch to energy-saving LED bulbs for Miami-Dade streetlights halted amid resident safety concerns

A Miami-Dade streetlight using a sodium-based bulb, left, and an LED bulb. Photos: Robert Holley

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.”

Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss

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.”

Switch approved

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.

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Latest comments

  • Lighting does nothing to prevent crime. Actually, it could indeed encourage it, because criminals have the same exact eye structure as law-abiding citizens and they need to be able to see. If presence of light deterred crime then, there would be Nearly ZERO crime during daylight hours & Gas Stations would be amongst the safest places on earth.

    Second, why have FPL & Miami-Dade County even considered to install 4000K LEDs when the American Medical Association has taken a stance on just how harmful that could potentially be for people & wildlife. The AMA recommends no higher than 3000K. And, in fact…, smarter cities throughout the world have realized this and have opted with between 1800 to no more than 2700K to protect residents and wildlife from the harmful effects of higher Color Temperature LED lighting. In this day and age, why do municipalities continue to commit the same mistake time after time ??
    And it’s not just the AMA who has weighed in. Harvard, UCONN, Tulane, WHO, Exeter, Barcelona Institute for Global Health and many others have made the same points that the AMA has. The Human population and fragile ecosystems are NOT experiments to be made on, we must go with the best science that is available to us at the present time. We cannot trust those who dismiss all of these studies because that, should prompt people to ask, what is it that they have to lose ??
    Follow the Money Trail.
    The ONLY Blue Light Wavelengths that we are designed to receive is the NATURAL type during daylight hours.
    ARTIFICIAL Blue Light at nighttime is detrimental to the Circadian Rhythms, Melatonin production of people and wildlife and that sets the stage for increases in the number of Cancers, Macular Degeneration, Obesity, Diabetes, Insomnia, Cardiovascular Diseases, Depression, Migraines, Irritability, Anxiety, and the list goes on.
    Hopefully, we can do better.

  • This article leaves out the most important component of LED lights: Color Temperature. Cities across the USA have made the mistake of switching to LED lights without understanding how blue wavelength light destroys the photo receptors in our eyes and without understanding how darkness is critical to human health and wildlife.

    The correct installation for LED lighting is soft lighting. This means the color temperature must be between 1500K and 2800K, the lights be be diffused (no bare diode LEDs) and shielded to prevent light trespass. Lights should turn off completely or be on motion sensor for late at night so that all humans and wildlife can sleep.

  • I agree with Steve and Mark above. Time and time again humans have rushed ahead with technologies for convenience without considering the downside to humanity (and other animals). At first it seems counterintuitive that glaringly bright LED lighting would be worse for safety but when you look more closely you can see how it actually makes us less safe. Also just Google blue light and circadian rhythm and you will find troubling research about how the wrong kind of lighting affects human metabolism, mental health and cancer risk.

  • Those pictures are taken a different exposures……the bright picture is over exposed compared to the darker one….how do I know….look at the faraway light in the background…one is much brighter…meaning more exposer and a brighter foreground……not a fair comparison.

  • Depending on brands and products the cities have chosen, the buyers may not have considered the various optical options available to them. The “spot vs flood” argument is easily resolved by choosing a different optical pattern (spread of light). I agree with some of the points above concerning color temperature, but at the same time, I’ve seen (and installed) 4000 kelvin products quite successfully, using the correct optics. LED is ABSOLUTELY the right product for these applications… but perhaps they’ve chosen the wrong LED product.

  • On the more mundane level, I sent this article to my Putnam County Commissioners. I received a reply from the purchasing manager saying they explored FPL desires on LED lights but FPL wanted to rent the equipment as reported in the article. Putnam County bought it’s own installing / converting to LED at a much cheaper cost without for ever rent payments.

  • So much unnecessary tirade to conclude that the increase in darkness in residential neighborhoods at night, what invites is crime in all its variants. That is the serious problem in all municipal governments, that politicians are schematized in diatribes to justify their high salaries and benefits, and not solve in a day what they make it possible to take 6 months in studies, research, obsolete checks, inoperances and BUROCRATISM.

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