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Willmar, Minn., Municipal Utilities Commission agrees to wait on LED light test

WILLMAR — Officials of Willmar Municipal Utilities were hoping early next year to test 16 energy-efficient LED street lights from two manufacturers, but have decided to delay the test for a couple of months while one of the manufacturers improves its lighting technology.

Willmar is already testing five units from five different manufacturers on 23rd Street Southeast south of the Holiday Inn. After judging which units did the best job of providing street lighting, a committee of utility employees and commission members Nov. 27 selected GE and Philips as the top two.

The utility wants to expand its LED testing and had intended to buy eight LED units from GE and eight units from Philips and install the 16 units in a row along Willmar Avenue Southwest between Seventh Street and 18th Street.

General Manager Wesley Hompe said this section of street was chosen because it is a heavily traveled road and the light spacing is fairly equal.

Jeff Kimpling, manager of manager of electric services, said there is no length of time for the Willmar Avenue test period.

“It’s just something to put up there and show the public what they are like, good or bad,’’ he said.

But after a Philips representative said two weeks ago that the company has a new, better and less costly unit on the market, officials recommended the utility delay buying the Philips units until they are available sometime during the next three months and then buy the Philips and GE units all at the same, said Kimpling.

He reported the recommendation to the Municipal Utilities Commission on Monday and the commissioners supported the recommendation.

The utility has been testing LED lights for over a year with the intent of gradually replacing the city’s high pressure sodium lights with LED units.

The expanded test goal had been to install the 16 units by mid-January through the first part of February. With the delay, installation will be sometime this spring.

Kimpling said the cost of a new LED unit has decreased from about $425 to $250. He said LEDs use about 45 percent of the energy used by high pressure sodium bulbs.

“We’d like to wait to buy the eight Philips,’’ Kimpling said. “This is just changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with it. That’s our recommendation. It’s still on our burner.’’

In other business, the commissioners thanked utility crew chief Dick Thynes and lineman Casey Jenny who gave a report on their mutual aid work with linemen from other Minnesota utilities in restoring power to Long Island, N.Y., victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Hompe said Thynes and Jenny topped the call-out list. Four or five other linemen were also available. Hompe said other Willmar linemen helped outfit the truck that Thynes and Jenny took to Long Island.

In related business, Hompe said labor cost incurred by Thynes and Jenny will be reimbursed by Long Island Power Authority as described in the labor agreement between Willmar Utilities and its linemen.

Hompe said Willmar and other utilities that worked in Long Island will be reimbursed for their expenses. Hompe said Willmar recently accumulated the costs of fuel, labor, hotels, meals, and Willmar-provided materials and submitted the complete bill to Long Island Power Authority through Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association, which coordinated the Minnesota relief effort.

If Willmar had such a disaster, Willmar would receive mutual aid such as was provided, but Willmar would also be fully liable for all expenses of that restoration.

He said Long Island is eligible for FEMA reimbursement of a percentage of those costs. Hompe said Willmar Utilities will remain financially whole as a result of this activity.

“We did not donate goods and services in Willmar Municipal Utilities’ customer/owners names, so our customer/owners will not pick up the tab for helping repair the Long Island system,’’ according to Hompe.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150