When it comes to cost-cutting measures in local government, streetlights seem like a non-negotiable–after all, they usually do a bang-up job of keeping the elderly from falling down and preventing robberies from happening in the dark. But a number of towns across the U.S. have decided to turn off streetlights, often using the environment as an excuse.
It’s true that streetlights use a significant amount of energy. The streetlights in the U.S. use the same amount of electricity on a yearly basis as 1.4 million homes, and spew as much CO2 as 2 million cars. But the real reason that towns are turning off the lights is cost.
Santa Rosa, California is removing 6,000 out of 15,000 streetlights in an effort that is expected to save $400,000 each year, and Dennis, Massachusetts is turning off 832 lights to save $50,000 every year. And while scientists at the Light Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute claim that there is no solid evidence that streetlights reduce crime, the lights do help prevent accidents at intersections. That means it might make sense to cut lights in low-traffic residential neighborhoods, but high-density streets should keep their streetlights on.
Or U.S. towns could copy the slew of small German towns that have recently introduced on-call street lamps, which only turn on when residents activate them from their cell phones. It’s a little complicated for less tech-savvy townies, but it might at least quell the complains from both residents who want their lights on and environmental activists who want to save energy.