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Stepping away from the night light

Janet Babin Jun 20, 2008

Stepping away from the night light

Janet Babin Jun 20, 2008


Tess Vigeland: The Summer Solstice is this weekend, the longest day and shortest night of the year. Many astronomers complain every night feels short when it comes to star gazing, ’cause the night sky is filled with the yellow haze of light pollution. With energy costs up, all those city lights are getting expensive too.

Proponents of darkness, — not to be confused with lords of darkness — are on Capitol Hill today to encourage lawmakers to “see the light.” Janet Babin reports from the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Pubic Radio.

Janet Babin: I get along really well with my neighbors. We help each other out. Collecting each other’s mail, water the plants.

But there’s one subject I just can’t brooch: their outdoor lights. They shine into my house and it makes me crazy.

Anthony Arrigo feels my pain:

Anthony Arrigo: It’s a very uncomfortable situation.

At one point, Arrigo had a neighbor’s light and a street light shine into his bedroom.

Arrigo: So I had the choice of opening the window and the curtains and getting fresh air, or closing the window and the blinds and sleeping in a dark environment.

Arrigo’s frustration led him to create StarryNightLights.com. The Web site sells downcast outdoor lights.

Arrigo says sales have trippled in three years.

Many dark sky advocates are amateur astronomers who want to see the stars. But they’re also concerned about costs.

Pete Strasser is with the International Dark Sky Association:

Pete Strasser: The figure that we’ve calculated is about $10 billion a year in wasted cost, to essentially illuminate the undersides of airplanes.

Many cities have ordinances to prevent light trespass. But they often exempt street lights, the principle cause of light pollution.

It doesn’t help that utility companies — whose mission is to sell kilowatt hours — own most of the street lights and lease them to local governments.

But some utilities have to follow state conservation mandates, like Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California. PG&E’s Lee Cooper says the company is installing a new generation of LED street lights that are 36 percent more energy efficient. And:

Lee Cooper: They’re very directional, so you’re only illuminating where you need lights — so in this case, the street surface.

PG&E estimates that more efficient outdoor lights could save enough energy to power up 3.6 million homes. Cooper and the Dark Sky Association hope to convince lawmakers that we need a federal solution to this glaring problem. They’ll make their case today on Capitol Hill.

And I’ll be eyeing my neighbors tonight. Maybe they heard this story and we can work out a peaceful solution.

In Durham, North Carolina, I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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