In Chattanooga, efficient street lamps light way for jobs

In 2012, the City of Chattanooga, Tenn., contracted with Global Green Lighting, or GGL, a local manufacturer of high-efficiency light fixtures, to replace 26,500 Chattanooga streetlamps.

This contract led to a rush of economic activity.

Last fall, GGL acquired a 180,000-square-foot facility in nearby Hixson, Tenn.

GGL installed four production lines imported from the company’s subcontractor in China.

And in December 2012, GGL began production of its state-of-the-art LED street lights in Hixson.

“It’s important that we keep our commitment to the City of Chattanooga to produce the lights they purchased from us here in Chattanooga and create local jobs as a direct result of their commitment to GGL,” said Don Lepard, the company’s founder, president, and CEO.

GGL currently has 25 employees and is ramping up with plans to hire 50 to 75 additional workers by the end of the first quarter of 2013. The company expects to fill 250 skilled manufacturing, engineering, and marketing positions by the end of the year. With that workforce, Lepard says his company could produce up to 20,000 LED lights per month.

GGL is not only improving Chattanooga’s light fixtures, it’s also utilizing the local utility’s fiber-optic network to enhance the city’s lighting grid. Over the next three years, the company will upgrade the grid to accommodate its custom-designed, radio-controlled wireless technology. This allows city officials and law enforcement to control each light with a radio signal.

Using the city’s network to access the server, the city can switch streetlamps on and off, or change the brightness to fit an area’s particular needs. The new smart lights also alert maintenance workers when they burn out, when there’s a loss of power, or when repairs are needed.

Replacing old lights with LEDs cuts energy use by an average of 70 percent, and with GGL’s radio-controlled system, the improvements will save the City of Chattanooga about 80 percent on its lighting-related energy expenditures. Once the project is complete, that could translate to $2.7 million in annual savings.

Estimated to cost $18.1 million, the new lighting system will pay for itself in less than seven years, according to David Crockett, the now-retired director of the city’s Office of Sustainability.

To help finance the $251,000 pilot phase to install new lighting at the City’s Coolidge Park, Chattanooga received $211,000 in federal stimulus funding. The pilot phase has been a big success. Once beleaguered by gang violence, criminal activity in Coolidge Park fell dramatically once the city installed the new lights. Nearby businesses are now thriving and they’re keeping their doors open long after dark. The drop in crime allows law-enforcement resources to be used elsewhere in Chattanooga.

There’s a bottom-line benefit because the city saves money on energy and maintenance costs. In fact, the city has not had to conduct maintenance on the lights in the two years since their installation.

In March 2012, Chattanooga’s city council voted to fund another phase of the lighting project for $6 million, using low-interest state bonds to help with the financing. GGL then applied for a federally-backed Small Business Administration loan to support expansion of the business, preparations, and first installments.

Five-hundred new lights were installed in downtown Chattanooga just in time for Christmas in December 2012, and an additional 5,500 were scheduled to be deployed across the city by spring 2013. Once the first phase is complete, the city will consider different options to fund the balance of the project’s costs.

Government and city officials, engineers, commercial investors, and universities from around the world have taken note of GGL’s groundbreaking low-energy lighting and smart-grid technologies. The company currently has requests for transmitters – which are the first component of its smart-lighting system – from 26 U.S. cities.

As GGL has shown in Chattanooga, innovative infrastructure upgrades support American businesses, create domestic jobs, reduce energy costs for taxpayers, and improve the quality of life in our cities.

— Environmental Entrepreneurs

Photo credit: GGL