May 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Energy secretary to tout LED streetlights in Detroit visit

Streetlights in Detroit are being converted to LED bulbs at the rate of about 500 a week, Mayor Mike Duggan's office has said. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Washington— Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will be in Detroit today to tout the administration’s plan to help the Motor City convert more than 50,000 streetlights to high efficiency LED lights — a move supporters say will save $1.5 million in annual costs.

“We’re not purchasing the lights,” Moniz said in a Detroit News interview Wednesday ahead of the announcement. “We help them match up with manufacturers and hopefully get good prices.”

During his visit, Moniz also will meet with auto suppliers to tout the government’s $25 billion auto lending program to help automakers and suppliers get low-cost government loans to build more fuel-efficient cars. On his agenda, too, is a meeting with officials of Ford Motor Co., which won $5.9 billion in low cost loans from the program in 2009.

Thursday afternoon, Moniz will deliver remarks at an event celebrating the installation of LED streetlights.

Moniz will tout the government’s efforts to help Detroit install 50,500 energy-efficient streetlights. The Energy Department is working with the city of Detroit, the Public Lighting Authority of Detroit and private sector partners including DTE Energy.

“We try to bring together the state and local governments, utilities, manufacturers, investors, banks,” Moniz said.

Detroit has struggled for years to keep most of its streetlights on. Last year, the city said about 40 percent of its 88,000 streetlights were not functioning.

A spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, John Roach, said about 6,000 lights have been converted to LED — and about 500 are being changed every week.

Last month, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said the city is fixing 500-800 lights a week. Duggan said in January LED lights will be in Detroit’s neighborhoods by 2015, a year ahead of schedule.

Moniz said LED bulbs will save $130 over a traditional incandescent bulb — and last 25 times as long — because even though they have a higher upfront cost, they have a less-than one year repayment of the capital costs.

“We see very strong support for these LED lights from law enforcement because of the bright lights,” Moniz said.

Earlier this month, the White House announced efforts to improve energy efficiency, including a pilot program aimed at helping five cities, including Detroit, modernize their public lighting systems.

The White House said the Energy Department is creating a “High Performance Outdoor Lighting Accelerator” to increase the adoption and use of high efficiency outdoor lights in the public sector. The program is aimed at replacing more than 500,000 outdoor light poles and developing best practice approaches to systemwide municipal upgrades.

The Energy Department said last year it was providing technical help to Detroit on a number of efficiency issues as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to provide expert advice and help speed up some federal funding to the bankrupt city.

On the automaker front, the Energy Department last month said it was reviving a long-dormant $25 billion auto loan program and is reaching out to auto suppliers to make new loans.

“There’s been very active discussions with a number of suppliers,” Moniz said, declining to say if he thought any new loans would be awarded this year. The program, which has been targeted by some conservatives for elimination, has no expiration date.

“It depends when we have proposals” that are ready, he said.

He noted some Republicans still cite the failure of solar panel startup company Solyndra, but he called that a “pretty weak argument” for opposing clean energy loans. “We have not been reticent at all in talking about the program,” he said. “ ... We are saying this is a very successful program.”

Moniz conceded the U.S. is not likely to meet President Barack Obama’s 2007 call for 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the roads by 2015. If sales keep doubling then the U.S. could hit the target a year later than called for.
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Moniz (Riccardo De Luca / AP)