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Time for county to reduce waste, enact efficient outdoor lighting ordinance

I am writing in response to the letter published in the June 6 Democrat from Brenda Langsdon of Elizabeth (‘Light ordinance low on list of priorities’). Langsdon stated that a light trespass ordinance would ‘be a holiday for thieves.’
While many today seem to be afraid of the dark, so are criminals. Unfortunately, many consumers have fallen prey to the marketing strategies of manufacturers that sell inefficient, poorly designed dusk-to-dawn ‘security’ lights which waste enormous amounts of energy but do little to enhance security. While Langsdon may believe a $59 light is the answer to a homeowner’s security concerns, this is simply not true. Would-be thieves and criminals want you to light their way to your property. You see, criminals are afraid of the dark, too.
Let’s consider the security issue logically. The dawn-to-dusk light shows criminals the way to your property. They won’t steal what they can’t see. The glare created by these lights also gives thieves lots of shadows in which to hide.
A comprehensive report on crime prevention which was presented to the U.S. Congress by the Dept. of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland stated, ‘We do not know if offenders use lighting to their advantage (and) cannot make any assertions regarding the effectiveness of lighting.’
What benefit, other than showing crooks where you keep your stuff, do these lights provide? If a criminal has to use a flashlight to find his way around your place, you’ll see him before he sees you.
Is glare from a light on your property that is visible a half mile or more away enhancing your security? No. It’s a nuisance to your neighbors.
A much better option is the motion sensor light which will alert you to the presence of intruders. Which makes more sense? A light that glares all night or one that activates when an intruder has entered your property?
The best option is an indoor security system. For about $100, very effective home-security systems with door and window sensors, motion detectors and an automatic telephone dialer can be had. A motion detector/wireless video system costs about the same as the annual electric bill for one of the power company’s dusk-to-dawn lights.
The dusk-to-dawn light is not only ineffective, it is very wasteful. The International Dark Sky Association estimates that poorly designed lighting wastes about $10 billion worth of energy in the U.S. every year. According to the local power utility, approximately 3,300 leased dusk-to-dawn lights are in use in their service area. If only one in three households in the county has one of these lights, there are more than 5,000 of them in use here. I counted 102 along an eight-mile stretch of S.R. 11 near my home recently. Each light consumes 125 kilowatt hours of power each month. That’s 625,000 kWh per month or 7.5 million kWh annually. One half of that energy is wasted creating glare and sky glow and doing nothing to enhance security.
There are health issues related to excessive lighting. Night without darkness suppresses the natural production of melatonin. Reduced melatonin is associated with breast cancer and other cancers. The bottom line is that excessive, poorly designed lighting does little to enhance security, wastes a tremendous amount of energy and natural resources, creates unwanted glaring light trespass and ruins the view of the night sky.
The solutions outlined above are simple. Motion-sensor lights will reduce your lighting bill by 40 to 50 percent and pay for themselves in the first year of operation. Snap-on shields for the typical PAR floodlight are available for under $20. If you still want to keep your electric meter spinning, keep the dusk-to-dawn light and install a shield. The NEMA head shields are available for about $30. REMC will install a shield or paint the inside of the fixture glass free of charge on its lights.
Effective lighting illuminates only where it’s needed along walkways and entryways. It should never create blinding glare or shine across property lines. Your property rights end at your property line and do not include throwing trash, making noise or throwing light trespass on to neighboring property. The proposed lighting ordinance which (Harrison County planner) Eric Wise has been researching is based on nationally recognized standard lighting practices. It sets reasonable lighting levels based on the size of the property and stipulates the installation of cut-off shields and reflectors which eliminate glare above horizontal and focus the light downward where it’s needed. It has nothing to do with holiday lighting. Several Indiana counties and communities, including Floyd County, Madison and Nashville, have enacted effective lighting ordinances.
When I spoke to the plan commission about adopting this ordinance, I suggested a one-time tax credit for installing a NEMA shield or motion-sensor system. Harrison County government should also get its lighting and energy consumption act together. Whatever the annual county electric bill is could likely be reduced by 12 to 15 percent by upgrading the lighting at county buildings. The parking lot lighting at the county annex building is a very good example of very bad lighting. Businesses should turn off outdoor lights an hour after closing.
It’s time to stop wasting resources as if there’s no tomorrow. Today, the U.S. government announced that, by 2015, it will be necessary to build three major power plants every year if anticipated energy demands are to be met. I believe reasonable people understand this.
Consider the facts I’ve presented, review your assumptions about ‘security’ lighting and take a critical look at how unattractive these lights are. Adopting good lighting practices can reduce or eliminate a tremendous amount of waste.
I invite those who have questions or would like more information to write P.O. Box 5973, Elizabeth, IN 47117 or e-mail [email protected] A wide variety of attractive, efficient fixtures are also now available.
Langsdon stated that a noise ordinance should take precedence. The two are not mutually exclusive. I, too, live near Elizabeth. Occasionally, I hear an aircraft flying overhead. The five dusk-to-dawn lights which spill glare onto my property and in my bedroom and living room windows are on all night every night, 365 nights a year. This is no longer acceptable. It is time for the plan commission and county commissioners to take the lead, reduce waste and enact an efficient outdoor lighting ordinance.
Mark Stevens Williams, an Elizabeth resident, is an amateur astronomer.