A light too bright? Winnipeggers worry about Hydro's conversion to LED street lights

A lot of Manitobans will soon have to get used to new LED street lights, as Manitoba has started a province-wide conversion to the brighter lights. Some people argue the lights are too bright, while others applaud them for improving pedestrian safety.

Manitoba Hydro has started province-wide conversion to LEDs, which some argue are too bright and disrupt sleep

Light too bright? Winnipeggers worry about Hydro's conversion to LED street lights

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

4 years ago
The CBC's Brett Purdy reports on Winnipeggers concerns over Manitoba Hydro's conversion to LED street lights. 3:34

Brandi Baldwin pulls her window drapes closed in her Norwood Flats living room. 

It's something the Winnipeg woman is worried she will have to do more of in every room of her home once Manitoba Hydro finishes upgrading street lights in her neighbourhood to new and brighter LED lights.

She's even concerned it might make it harder for her to stay in the home.

"Honestly, it would be hard to want to stay because the impact right now of even the soft yellow lights — they're pretty bright and we have to have darkening blinds. If there were four really bright LEDs, it would be hard to block out, even with darkening shades," said Baldwin.

A lot of Manitobans will soon have to get used to the new LED lighting. Manitoba Hydro started a province-wide conversion to LED lights in the spring of 2015 and expects to upgrade 130,000 street lights in the province by 2021.

More than 45,000 upgrades have been completed already in the province, with more than 25,000 of those in the city of Winnipeg. Hydro said there are approximately 80,000 street lights in the city still to be upgraded. 

Brandi Baldwin in the front room of her Norwood Flats home. She's concerned the light from LED street lights would be too bright to block out. (CBC)

That includes the lights around Baldwin's home, which she bought in 2006. The house is at an intersection that has four street lights. She said after three elm trees were cut down last year she noticed how much those lights shine onto her property and worries the upgraded LED lights Hydro is installing — 4000K lights, which means they give off a whiter light — will make it even worse.

"If all of a sudden they were all changed it would be really shocking," Baldwin said.

"The lights we have now are warm. The neighbourhood has a warmer feeling. If you have those bright lights it feels sort of industrial. It just feels really harsh."

Manitoba Hydro's website says the LEDs produce a "visually appealing white light," and claims the change to LEDs will save money and is environmentally friendly.

The new LED lights last up to 20 years and will save maintenance costs, Hydro says. The street light upgrades will also result in electricity savings, and will reduce 27,000 tonnes of indirect greenhouse gas emission in electricity export markets, which is equivalent to removing 5,400 cars from the road, according to the utility.

Nothing cooler?

But Baldwin isn't the first person to take issue with brighter LED lights. Earlier this year, the city of Montreal announced it would replace 132,000 streetlights with 3000K LED lights, after its initial plan to use 4000K LED lights raised health and light pollution concerns. The 3000K lights give off a warmer, more yellowish light than the 4000K lights Manitoba Hydro plans to use.

Guidelines adopted by the American Medical Association in June 2016 cautioned against the use of LED lights that "emit a large amount of blue light that appears white to the naked eye and create worse nighttime glare than conventional lighting."

The 4000K lights emit a blue-rich light, which more closely simulates daylight than the 3000K LED lights do.
Manitoba Hydro started a province-wide conversion to LED lights in the spring of 2015 and expects to upgrade 130,000 street lights in the province by 2021. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

"Discomfort and disability from intense, blue-rich LED lighting can decrease visual acuity and safety, resulting in concerns and creating a road hazard," the AMA said.

Beyond driving hazards, it noted that blue-rich LED nighttime lighting suppresses the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep and wakefulness, and such lighting "is associated with reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity."

A spokesperson with Manitoba Hydro said the AMA document should be viewed with some caution. The spokesperson said that some of the studies used in the report don't accurately reflect the environments and exposure levels that would be encountered here.

Hydro also said it will take customers' concerns seriously.

"There are options available to reduce spill lighting into a customer's residence if the position of the light is not ideal. All of our fixtures have dimmable drivers and this is something we are looking at possibly utilizing," the spokesperson said.

Brighter days for neighbourhood safety

The City of Winnipeg said it has received both positive and negative calls about the new lights. To date, it has received 14 negative service requests related to LED streetlights — typically about the LED lights being too harsh or too bright — and 10 positive service requests.

Sel Burrows is one of the Winnipegers who likes the new lights. The chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee lives in one of a handful of neighbourhoods that has been mostly upgraded to the LED lights, which he thinks have made the community safer.
Sel Burrows is pleased with Manitoba Hydro's upgrades to LED streetlights and said the change helps to make residents feel safer in the inner city. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

"Good lighting allows people to be safer, and bad guys are much less likely to do something if they can be seen coming and if other people can see them around," Burrows said.

"It's really important in the inner city, where an awful lot of people have to walk. They don't have cars and they don't drive, so not having good lighting is quite scary."

Burrows said people in Point Douglas reached out to Hydro to ask to have the lights converted as quickly as possible. 

Baldwin said she can see both sides of the light debate but thinks it's something people need to at least talk about before the upgrades are complete.

"Because it's gradual, people aren't having as much of a conversation about it," she said. 

"I think it's something that should be thought about and I think we should be able to give our opinion on it, and I think alternatives should be looked at."


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