The incandescent electric lamp invented a little more than 100 years ago has not only dramatically impacted our lifestyles, but also our night skies. Since then, urbanization and poorly controlled lighting have created a severe light pollution problem in industrialized countries around the world. A recent study revealed that perhaps two-thirds of the world's population can no longer look at night and see the Milky Way as a result of light pollution-the inadvertent illumination of the atmosphere from street lights, businesses, homes, schools and other sources.
The good news is Maui County has met a 2007 law mandating a Jan. 25, 2012, deadline for shielding half of the county's streetlights to decrease light pollution, according to David Goode, director of Public Works for Maui County.
"In fact, I've been advised that two-thirds of the county's streetlights have been shielded," Goode said.
David Goode, director of Public Works for Maui County, wants the language of the new lighting ordinance to be broad enough to keep up with new technology as it unfolds.
But in addition to installing more shielding, there is more work to be done regarding the reduction of light pollution of our night skies.
By the end of February, Maui County plans to have rewritten its 2007 lighting ordinance to allow for advances in lighting technology.
"As it is now, Maui County's ordinance allows for only high-pressure sodium (HPS) streetlights," Goode said.
In other words, by law, no other type of lighting besides HPS can be used, even though light-emitting diodes (LEDs) consume less energy and could cut the county's street lighting bill by half, according to Goode.
"Right now, we're spending $2 million a year for street lighting in Maui County," Goode said.
"We spend $5 million for road resurfacing," he added. "It all comes out of the same highway fund, which also pays for bus service and road crews. So if I can cut the lighting expense by half by converting to LEDs, that'll give me another $1 million to spend on road maintenance."
But reducing expenses is only one aspect of the lighting issue. LEDs come with their own baggage.
"Most LED manufacturers make very bright lights with lots of blue light that interferes with astronomers' work and also police work," Goode said. Blue light effects color rendition, he said.
"HPS lights have a yellowish glow, not a lot of blue," he explained. "When lights emit a lot of blue, it distorts color," making identification of a vehicle, for example, subjective, based on the light source in which the vehicle was observed.
"In the case of a hit-and-run, for example, one witness may say the car was blue, while another says it was brown and still another says it was black," he explained.
While some LEDs emit a high output of blue frequencies that are very damaging to images from the telescopes and disorienting to turtles and night flying birds, others are available that don't emit the blue frequencies. Therefore, they are better environmentally, according to Lee Altenberg, Ph.D., who said he served on the County Council's Sub-Committee on Outdoor Lighting Standards 10 years ago and helped draft the county's present lighting ordinance.
"The ideal would be to find an LED that has the clarity of an HPS," Goode said. "That would save the county a lot of money."
As reported in "The Maui News" last October, Mike Maberry of the University of Hawai'i Institute for Astronomy and Maui County's Outdoor Lighting Standards Committee said county officials assured him only LEDs with the "right blend of color frequencies compatible with wildlife and astronomy" will be used.
"Do you rely on that, or do you put specific wording into the law itself," asked Altenberg. "Everybody agrees the lights should have the proper color spectrum. The main disagreements have been on how best to ensure that. Should specifications be explicitly written into the code or left up to the director of Public Works?"
He said he has submitted draft language that could "solve the technical problems."
"Switching to LEDs will be a County Council decision," Goode said. "That's the first thing that has to be done-get the County Council to approve changing the present ordinance."
Maui County Councilmember Elle Cochran, representing West Maui, chairs the council's seven-member Infrastructure Management Committee, which oversees outdoor lighting.
"We need to change the code," Cochran said. "We need to put in language clarifying what LEDs the county will allow, and we want to install LEDs in the street lights that haven't been shielded yet."
She added that doing that will save work and money. "We won't have to go back and change those-you know, double the work and double the money."
Cochran said she is waiting for Goode's department to present the rewritten lighting ordinance to her committee for review, and if it's approved, she'll present it to the County Council. Goode said the rewrite will be completed in February.
Goode said, ideally, the rewritten ordinance will allow for innovations in lighting. He wants the language of the ordinance to be broad enough to keep up with new technology as it unfolds.
"The bill will be rewritten asking the council to be open to approving any new lighting technology," Goode said.