Montgomery Parks recently converted 62 high-pressure sodium (HPS) light fixtures to newer, more efficient LED technology at South Germantown Recreational Park. South Germantown Recreational Park was built in 2001 and covers over 695 acres of land. Through the years, the park has grown to become one of the most equipped recreational areas in the County, with soccer fields, swimming facilities, mini-golf, and even an archery range. The constant circulation of people and usage of the park’s amenities demand much electricity. In fact, when all the road and walkway lights are on, 43,400 watts of energy run through the park’s electric system.
Until recently, these park lights were powered by 20-year old HPS lamp technology which is comprised of three primary components: a transformer, an igniter, and a capacitor. All three must work in perfect symphony for the bulb to operate appropriately. Hence, the outdoor bulbs at South Germantown Recreational Park required constant maintenance from Parks personnel. A single 1000-watt HPS ballast, which includes all the inner workings for the light, weighs around 70 pounds. This adds to the maintenance challenges for these lighting types.
LED bulbs (pictured on the right) are significantly simpler on the inside and easier to manage. After removing all the inner components from the light fixtures, Montgomery Parks Electrician Phillip Parks installed the new technology in approximately two weeks. As explained by Justin Cantwell, Master Electrician and project lead, “the process of switching the lights is fairly simple. After removing the three components, the light fixture was hardwired in and the LED bulb simply screwed in.” Cantwell noted that the entire process of the project was surprisingly quick. The initiative was developed in the fall of 2020, and less than six months later, the great majority of outdoor poles had already been retrofit to LED. Now, the roadway lights are only drawing 4,560 watts, accounting for an almost 90% reduction in power when compared to its original level.
The 62 retrofit light fixtures illuminate the entire entrance roadway and central road loop of South Germantown Recreational Park. Along with parking lot and walkway lighting, these increase safety for cars to navigate and for pedestrians to traverse the park at nighttime.
Amanda Aparicio, an Assistant Chief with the Facilities Management Division at Montgomery Parks, shared a map of the park (pictured above) and explained: “Blue dots are any light that has been retrofit to LED. Currently, there are still some metal halide lights in the park, shown in red.”
One of the most significant advantages of LED technology is its longevity. On average, the life span of an LED light is roughly 50,000 hours, much longer than the 10,000-hour life span of a traditional HPS. Different than HPS, LED has no fragile components that need to be maintained. As detailed by Cantwell, while the components of HPS require service every 5 to 6 years, an LED light can go up to 17 years without maintenance. Additionally, the new LED technology features a digital clock that turns the lights on and off daily. The clock adjusts with the changing times of daylight, making the system even more independent and efficient. However, because LEDs are an evolving technology, the light bulbs on the market are ever-changing. Thus, it can be challenging to find an identical replacement in case there are any defects in a part of the LED bulb. HPS has been around for a long time, so it is easy to find replacements.
Cost is always a consideration when thinking about retrofit projects. The upfront costs of LEDs are decreasing, and the tremendous long-term energy-saving and low maintenance required compensates for the initial investment. Additionally, there are programs available to help fund projects like this one. The initiative at South Germantown Recreational Park went through Pepco’s Small Business EmPOWER Maryland program, which reimburses over 50% of the total cost back to Montgomery Parks. While the material cost of the LED retrofitting was $9,700, Pepco’s EmPOWER Program rebate for the materials totaled $6,200. Montgomery Parks expects the payback period for the project to be under one year.
Aparicio notes that, “by participating in this program, Montgomery Parks is able to complete more retrofit projects on parkland – conserving energy and increasing efficiency of operations.” These efforts are a major component of the Montgomery Parks sustainability program which is also rapidly exploring installation of renewable energy projects as well. These types of projects are critical to supporting the recently released Montgomery County Climate Action Plan, which provides a path for the County to meet its zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2035.
Written by: Dora Hauache, 2021 Montgomery County summer climate intern
4 comments on "Montgomery Parks Undertakes LED Retrofits at South Germantown Recreational Park"
I have heard that LED lights kill way more insects, so may not be the way to go, especially in a parks area. Is there any truth to this?
Mary, there are always pros/cons to new technologies and while there are some studies that show that streetlights along motorways may kill more insects, that may not be the case with parks. The parks took a lot of time and did research before they made the switch to LEDs and the impact on the ecosystem was one of them. These LEDs will use less energy and help reduce the impacts on climate change.
What color temperature are the new LEDs? Are they dark sky compliant? Often these high powered LEDs have a high color temperature which affects wildlife circadian rhythms, as well as having a lot of glare. And regardless of their power usage, they often output more light which creates more light pollution.
The lesser maintenance and cost don’t always offset the price we pay for the increased impact on the environment with negatively affecting animals and increasing light pollution.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment about the LED lighting retrofit project at South Germantown Recreational Park (SGRP). SGRP is one of the most active parks in the Montgomery Parks inventory as it offers a diverse array of recreational opportunities for visitors, often into evening and night hours. The lighting referenced in this article is on the higher end of the temperature spectrum (5,000K), but was selected based on the use and need of this very busy recreational park. It is not a standard color temperature used throughout our park system. The fixture style does conform with the acceptable standards of the International Dark Sky Association. A lot of thought goes into lighting and fixture selection at each park, which often is tailored to the individual park needs and considerate of the surrounding area. Core to our mission is balancing stewardship of our natural resources and providing recreational opportunities for the community. Internally, staff have been discussing dark sky compliance as it relates to wildlife protection and light pollution, while maintaining safety and access for our park visitors.