⊕Bright lights: UC city completes largest LED retrofit in TVA territory

Crews with Minnville Electric System recently replaced all the city’s street lights with LEDs
Crews with Minnville Electric System recently replaced all the city’s street lights with LEDs

MCMINNVILLE – Nearly 3,000 lights. Roughly $1 million. And a first in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) territory.

Municipal utility McMinnville Electric System (MES) has received many kudos – even an award from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office – for its recent efforts to swap every street and yard light in the city with LED. That may be because the project, nearing its one-year completion mark, is not only unique to the Upper Cumberland. Rodney Boyd, MES general manager, said it’s a first in the entire TVA, a span of seven states, 80,000 square miles and more than 150 local power companies.

“There’s not a week that goes by where I don’t get a call from another manager of a utility who says, ‘Hey, tell me again exactly how you made this work.’ For us, it was a perfect storm,” Boyd said. “And now, instead of everything looking yellow when you come into McMinnville, it’s got a nice, white bright look about it.”

The retrofit has been a goal for years, or at least since McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley took office in 2012, and proposed the project as a way to make the city more green. MES was a great potential candidate; the utility, for example, celebrated the installation of two electric vehicle charging stations, some of the first in the region, that same year. For this particular initiative, Boyd said MES tested several LED lights before settling on an extended life, 15-year photocell. The lights will require less maintenance, are more directional, and, Boyd said, are more aesthetically pleasing. Overall, MES replaced a total of 1,731 street lights and an additional 1,231 yard lights as well.

“People love the lights; they’re clean and white and bright,” Haley said. “For a small town to take that step, that we could be that forward thinking and beat out cities like Chattanooga, I’m proud we were able to pull that off and get this done.”

Both Boyd and Haley said the city has cut its kilowatt usage in half. While that hasn’t translated to big dollar savings in the short term, the bigger payoff will be in the years to come. TVA is planning a rate increase in October – for the second consecutive year; this one at 1.5 percent – and Boyd said more hikes are to follow.

“The net effect to the city was pretty well zero immediately, but there will be cost savings going forward,” Boyd said.

And there’s awards to boot. In May, McMinnville officials received the 2015 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards in the energy and renewable resources category for their efforts. While the ultimate effect is whiter and brighter city streets, the designation was icing on the cake.

“They looked at many other projects, and we won, which to me, is very exciting,” Boyd said. “So far it’s been a win-win for everybody; it’s been a great project.”



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