Local stargazers will be able to view the Antioch skyline much more clearly come summer, but city officials said that is just one of many benefits that a $4.65 million lighting retrofit project will provide residents.

The project, which the city believes is the largest of its kind nationwide, includes all of the city's streetlights, public parking lots and community parks. In total, 8,700 lighting poles will be retrofitted through July.

The city took on the project for environmental and public safety benefits, but mostly to save money. Antioch expects to reduce energy costs by $530,000 annually as a result of the retrofit, Public Works Director Ron Bernal said.

"That is a lot of money to use for other things," he said. "Everybody is talking green. It is a green project. It was a safe bet for the city."

Last month, workers started the six-month project to install new lenses throughout the city that allow the light to shine downward more effectively. It will eliminate that amber-colored glow that surrounds the current street lighting, according to Matt Tracy, owner of Pleasanton's Enlight Energy Efficient Lighting Co., which is working on the project being managed by Honeywell Building Solutions.

"By the time we get done with this project, you should be able to see the stars in Antioch much better," Tracy said.

The effort kicked off last year when streetlights around City Hall, including seven civic buildings, were replaced. The pilot project received mostly praise from residents, Bernal said.

PG&E will provide $150,000 in rebates to the city as a result of the enhanced lighting.

In addition to saving taxpayers money in energy costs, the city obtained a low-interest rate, and the project will pay for itself in just a decade, city officials said. Maintenance costs will be significantly reduced because the new energy-efficient lighting will last five times longer than the previous lighting.

The city already had been planning the project when a federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy provided $660,000. It's funding the remaining $4.05 million cost through a 10-year tax-exempt municipal loan with a 4.79 percent fixed interest rate. The energy savings from the project are expected to more than offset the monthly loan payments.

Many cities are now using induction or LED lighting, including the city of Ripon in San Joaquin County, according to Bernal. In Antioch's case, it will reduce CO2 emissions by more than 1,800 tons each year, or a 20 percent reduction in the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

Although some residents complained that the new lighting is not as bright, Bernal said the new fluorescent lighting provides stronger, brighter light and reduces the haze that existed around the older lighting.

"It is a perception thing. If you are directly in front of a light, you see that it is brighter," he said.

City officials tout the project as having an added benefit for law enforcement and public safety.

"Public safety is so important these days," Bernal said. "It is really nice to see those lights out there."

The white lighting should illuminate colors better than the old lighting and allow residents to see better overall, Tracy added.

The project is providing lots of work for local contractors and is helping to stimulate the local economy, according to the city. As crews continue to perform the retrofits in neighborhoods throughout downtown and southeast Antioch, they will barricade the neighborhoods they are working in.

Questions about the project can be directed to Ken Warren at 925-779-7035.

ANTIOCH'S STREETLIGHT upgrade PROJECT
8,700 light poles are being retrofitted between February and July, cutting the city's CO2 emissions by more than 1,800 tons each year -- for a reduction of 20 percent.
Estimated cost: $4.65 million
Stimulus funding: $660,000
PG&E rebate: $150,000
Projected energy savings: $530,000 annually
Project manager: Honeywell Building Solutions
Contractor: Enlight Energy Efficient Lighting Co., Pleasanton