BENTON CITY -- Benton City is one of six small towns in the state to receive new, power-efficient street lights for free.
Work is under way to replace the existing street lights with LEDs -- light-emitting diodes -- and should be completed by the end of the month.
Swapping out incandescent bulbs for LEDs is a pilot program of the state Transportation Improvement Board, said Clint Ritter, project engineer for the LED Street Light Implementation Project.
"Saving money is the main goal of the project," he said.
Many small towns like Benton City spend a significant amount, sometimes as much as 15 percent of their street maintenance budget, on electricity and maintenance of street lights, he said.
"So they're not able to fix potholes or do any paving because they're strapped financially. Some cities are even resorting to turning off lights," Ritter said.
The state Transportation Improvement Board has an asphalt program that helps cities like Benton City pay for street repairs.
"But it's very competitive to get funds because the state has limited funds and there's a lot of need," he said.
The idea is, if cities save money on street lights, that money could go into street maintenance instead.
Benton City -- along with Coulee Dam, Palouse, Buckley, Blaine and Richfield -- were chosen for the initial demonstration project.
Stephanie Haug, Benton City's city clerk and treasurer, said in 2013 the city spent 9 percent of its $215,800 street maintenance budget on street lights.
"Last year the city spent $17,360 on electricity and $1,406 on maintenance, mainly changing the bulbs," she said.
Ritter said the city's 183 street lights will be replaced at a cost of about $55,000.
Benton PUD will be replacing 119 of the lights and Benton Rural Electric Association will replace 11 of the street lights.
"The city actually owns the lights but we see to the installation and replacement of any in our service area," said Troy Berglund, manager of community development and community relations for the REA. The PUD has a similar agreement with the city.
Benton City also has 53 street lights and has contracted with Sun River Electric of Kennewick to replace those with the new LEDs.
At the end of the year, Haug said, she'll "be excited to see what the difference in the power bill will be."
Berglund said even in just the 11 lights being changed out by the REA, the city should definitely see some savings.
Karen Miller, manager of communications and government relations for the Benton PUD, said Benton City should save about $5,000 annually in electrical charges for the 119 lights.
"When the (Transportation Improvement Board) contacted us about this project the city jumped on the opportunity," Haug said.
She said before beginning, the agency hired a consultant who analyzed the existing lights.
"The new LEDs will match the same light output, though the light will be a different color, more blue than yellow," she said.
Haug said Benton City will be recycling the used lights.
w Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org