Dark sky movement grows

Lamborn and Landsend mountains are visible beneath the Milky Way in this image by Paonia photographer Ben Lehman. Dark Skies Paonia is a chapter of the International Dark Sky Association. The organization worked with the Town of Paonia to install dark-skies friendly lighting. 

After five years and untold hours of community discussion Paonia Town Trustees found common ground on the town’s lighting issues and unanimously voted to replace nearly 100 lights with dark sky friendly 2,700 Kelvin LED lights and shields.

Following a detailed report from interim town administrator Corinne Ferguson, a healthy discussion by trustees and several recommendations from citizens, the board decided to bypass the once-sought-after 3,000 Kelvin lights for the dimmer 2,700 Kelvin rated lights.

In town surveys, roughly 78% of Paonia residents support the 3,000 Kelvin option with 93% favor shielding the lights. However, the board was swayed by the overwhelming support for the 2,700 Kelvin lights after hearing from citizens at the meeting.

Ferguson told trustees that Delta/Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) agreed to forego its standard 4,000 Kelvin lights required for seven other towns it services and allow Paonia to purchase and install the 3,000 Kelvin or 2,700 Kelvin lights upon trustee approval.

The cost to retrofit the lights and install new shields will cost roughly $3,500 above the $25,000 budgeted for the project in 2016. Discussion about replacing worn out lights with fresh 4,000 Kelvin lights and the potential to save on utilities began in 2015. Through extensive community conversation and the input of Dark Skies Paonia, the town began moving toward 3000 Kelvin lights and then progressed to the lower 2700 Kelvin lights.

Funds to make up the $3,000 to 4,500 difference in the budget will be taken out of the town’s capital fund with hopes of replenishing it with money saved in utilities. In addition, Dark Skies Paonia committed $500 toward the overage and pledged to help raise more in community support.

On the bright side, DMEA agreed to automatically adjust the town’s light bill and provide the discount before any installation work has been completed. Ferguson said that even if it takes four to six months to do the replacement, the discount will go into effect.

The decision to go with the lower-rated lights pleased members of Dark Skies Paonia, a non-profit advocating the benefit of dark skies and eliminating light pollution.

Aaron Watson, Dark Skies Paonia, spoke during the public discussion to switch from 3000 Kelvin lights to the less threatening 2,700 Kelvin lights.

“While we really appreciate DMEA and the town considering the dark sky planning lights 3,000 and 2,700K are both dark sky friendly," he said. "At Dark Skies Paonia we highly recommend the 2,700 Kelvin lights. From talking to community members there has to be a discussion that the 3000 Kelvin is too strong of a light and so we want to make it as easy on people as possible. The 2700 Kelvin is the best deal that we are getting from DMEA right now. We recommend doing that since the energy savings are going to be huge savings for the town."

Prior to the vote, Paonia Mayor Charles Stewart stressed the urgency to make a decision, “One of the things that has been kind of a driving factor is every month that goes by we have a utility bill that is roughly about a thousand dollars higher ... literally this has been in the budget since 2016. So, when you do the math, not dealing with this issue is expensive. And it would be (right) for this board to come to a decision.”

Ferguson followed up saying, “We’re asking them (DMEA) to apply something for us that’s a standard outside of what they do. The fact of the matter is that if the town chooses not do anything in lieu of waiting to see if something better comes down the line, we are going to continue to pay the increase and the increase costs and DMEA is going to continue to replace the lights with the 4,000 Kelvin LED unshielded lights.”

Following the town’s approval of the 2,700 Kelvin LED lights, Dark Skies Paonia sent out a press release stating, “The new streetlights are the first step towards Dark Sky Certification and give Paonia a great foundation in the process. The next step is the outdoor lighting assessment to see what publicly owned lights can be improved. The Town also needs to create an International Dark Sky Community Lighting Ordinance to regulate outdoor nighttime lighting in Town.”

Paonia officials did not give a time table for DMEA to begin work on replacing the older lights with the new energy efficient and dark sky friendly lights.

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