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Things literally are brightening up in the Region. 

Over the next few years, NIPSCO is equipping all of its streetlights with LED technology. The new, light-emitting diode fixtures are brighter and more efficient than the high-pressure sodium lights being replaced.

"It's more efficient for us, it's more efficient for the customers," NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said.

By 2022, NIPSCO will replace 42,000 company-owned streetlights; some 7,200 are being replaced this year in East Chicago, Schererville, Munster, Highland, Valparaiso, Kouts, Wheatfield, Hebron and Whiting.

An LED pilot program took place in 2014-2015, and in 2016 NIPSCO began the process of replacing all of its old fixtures with LED lighting.

Winfield joined Dyer as the first communities to receive the LED technology. All 23 of Winfield's NIPSCO-owned lights along the town's main artery, 109th Avenue, were switched to LED lighting in November.

"We've had a lot of positive comments in regards to them," Clerk-Treasurer Rick Anderson said. "They are a lot more focused and the color quality is a lot better."

Anderson said the entire process began 2008 when NIPSCO filed a rate case. Part of that rate case was an increase in electrical charges for things like municipal street lighting.

“It was going to hit us fairly significantly," Anderson said. 

Getting serious about street lighting

It was then that Winfield joined a group of municipalities in Northwest Indiana known as IMUG, the Indiana Municipal Utility Group. IMUG was a stakeholder in the case, formed to have representation and a voice in the process. But the LED streetlights program didn't become more focused until future regulatory proceedings. 

"It was a few years back when we started having really serious conversation about what a program would look like," Meyer said.

IMUG began working with NIPSCO on what the utility could do with streetlight technology to update and make it more efficient.

During that process the Purdue University Northwest Hammond Campus Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center got involved. It received a grant from IMUG to research options implementing new streetlighting technology while coordinating with NIPSCO.

Meyer said Robert Kramer, PNW's Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center director, was instrumental getting the LED program off the ground.

"We're seeing the energy efficieny," Kramer said of the program. "The most recent rate case gave an advantage to LED lighting over high pressure sodium from a rate standpoint, which we thought was a really positive thing.

"I think everyone came out of it a winner," he added, "and I think it's going to be really positive for ratepayers and everyone in the community."

Kramer said there should be a reduction in accidents as well as about 70 percent energy savings, thanks to LED lighting.

"The light is much better focused, and you can sense motion on the periphery much better with it," he said.

A long time coming

Valparaiso will have more than 1,300 LED lights added in October and November. City Administrator Bill Oeding said they expect a savings of some $80,000 a year.

"I think this is a long time coming," he said. "It makes a lot of sense."

The city has many of its own decorative street lights already fitted with LED bulbs. 

"We are well aware of the distinction," Oeding said. "It eliminates a lot of shadows. It is really good for elderly people and people with sight issues because the light is so crystal clear you can see much better at night."

Oeding said it's a change from what he would call "dark, yellowish and dingy to just a bright light."

"And that is the power and the beauty of LED," he said. 

Kramer said the Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center will continue to evaluate different facets of LED technology, and there will be re-evaluation on an ongoing basis. They plan to continue to test various vendors, and look at new product development for reliability and operating practices.  

Kramer said they also are doing an evaluation of the highway lighting for the Indiana Department of Transportation. 

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.