An Astronomer’s View of Street Lighting

Image of United States and light pollution across the country.
Photo Credit: http://www.lightpollutionmap.info is a mapping application that displays VIIRS/DMSP/World Atlas overlays and the user measurements overlay over Microsoft Bing base layers (road and hybrid Bing maps).

An Astronomer’s View of Street Lighting

By Lawrence L. Faltz MD, President, Westchester Amateur Astronomers

When the Northridge earthquake cut power in Los Angeles in January 1994, the Griffith Observatory received phone calls from concerned citizens asking about a mysterious cloud overhead that they had never seen before. The Milky Way, our galaxy, had probably not been visible from downtown LA for half a century.

It’s estimated that more than two-thirds of the people in the world cannot see the Milky Way from their homes. We light up our environment for safety, to allow us to move about at night, and to decorate our homes and businesses. But this light is also obliterating the stars–a source of inspiration and information for diverse cultures across the centuries.

Light pollution doesn’t just wash out the glories of the night sky and frustrate amateur astronomers. It wastes energy and money. Poor lighting design creates glare that actually makes it difficult to see well at night. Misdirected light crosses property lines and intrudes into homes, disturbing sleep. Hundreds of studies have documented the adverse effects of light pollution on the environment. It has devastating impact on some animal behaviors. More than 1,600 investigations into its impact on human health have been published. It may be a carcinogen. The American Medical Association is sufficiently concerned to have voted to “support light pollution reduction efforts and glare reduction efforts” and to “support efforts to ensure all future streetlights be of a fully shielded design or similar non-glare design to improve the safety of our roadways.”

Photo Credit: http://www.lightpollutionmap.info. Updated light pollution map of lower New York State.

Municipalities all over the United States, including towns in Westchester, are replacing their older streetlights with brighter LED streetlamps. The main reason is economic: LED streetlamps use much less power and have very long lives, reducing costs. New York City is replacing a quarter of a million street lamps and each year expects to save $6 million in energy costs and $8 million in maintenance. Another positive factor is that these fixtures are better shielded than the old “cobra head” sodium vapor lamps, projecting more of the light where it’s needed and not uselessly up to the sky. However, while shielding is better than before, it’s not as good as it could be. New York City’s LED streetlamps still project 5% of the light upward and up to 20% into the “glare zone” at or above 80 degrees. Many municipalities are installing similar “semi-cutoff” street lamps.

In addition, most of the fixtures installed to date use LED’s that emit light that is enriched in the blue part of the spectrum. Blue-rich LEDs produce three times as much skyglow as the older lights because blue light scatters much more efficiently than light in the “warmer” (yellow) part of the spectrum, a phenomenon known as “Rayleigh scattering.” The daytime sky is blue because our atmosphere scatters blue light in the sun’s spectrum more than other colors. Blue-rich light also causes more glare, poses greater difficulties for older eyes, has more damaging ecological impacts, and more readily disrupts human circadian rhythms. LED’s that have a warmer color temperature and produce nearly the same amount of light per watt consumed as blue-rich LEDs are now available for outdoor use.

We may have to wait until the end of the 15-year life span of new LED street lamps to try to get them replaced with warmer lamps. If your town is still in the process of acquiring and installing LED street lamps, ask it to use the warmer, more ecologically and medically friendly bulbs in fully-shielded fixtures.

A source of light pollution you can control is your own home. Replace decorative lighting that throws light upwards where it’s not needed with fixtures that direct the light downward. Use warm LED bulbs. Turn off outside lights when they’re not needed. Ask your neighbors and businesses you frequent to do the same.

For more information, check out http://www.darksky.org, the web site of the International Dark-Sky Association.

Resources for further reading:

 


Lawrence L. Faltz MD, President, Westchester Amateur Astronomers

Dr. Faltz is a life-long amateur astronomer. He was Chief Medical Officer of Phelps Memorial Hospital Center from 1994 to 2017 and is Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College.

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Long Island Sound Study Updates

By Tony Sorrell, FCWC Board Member
The Long Island Sound Study-Citizen’s Advisory Committee (LISS-CAC) Quarterly Meeting was held on March 10, 2016 in New York City. Seventeen representatives from member organizations in Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut attended as well as representatives from the EPA and the NY DEC. The conversation at this meeting focused on nitrogen in Long Island Sound. Generally, nitrogen levels in the Sound are on a downward trend, which is the good news.
Mark Tedesco of the EPA LISS office  presented on a Nitrogen Reduction Strategy overview and then James Tierney of the NY DEC  presented the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan.  Participants were informed about nitrogen reduction outreach programs that took place  in Galveston Bay, Tampa Bay and Puget Sound. It is suggested that best practices used in these areas could be implemented for an outreach and marketing program in the LIS region.

Hypoxia 20 year average

Hypoxia over past 20 years
In Westchester, our sewage treatment plant upgrades are helping to reduce nitrogen levels, however more work needs to be done to address non-point sources of pollution such as storm water, septics, and turf fertilizer.  Remediation alternatives like aeration and bio extraction still need to be explored to understand how they can help improve water quality in LIS.
Upcoming meetings and events
  • 2016 Long Island Sound Research Conference on Friday, May 13, 2016 in Bridgeport, Connecticut
  • 25th Annual Long Island Sound Citizens Summit on Friday, June 3rd at Stony Brook University’s Student Activities Center
  • LISS-CAC Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) in NY, June 17, at Stony Brook.
  • LISS-CAC quarterly meeting June 23 with be held in CT

Westchester Power Program launches first-in-state energy aggregation

Something remarkable happened when the Sustainable Westchester team working on the community choice energy aggregation program opened the energy supply bids from leading energy service companies last month.

Clean energy won BIG!

In February 2015, the New York State Public Service Commission approvwestchester-map4ed Sustainable Westchester’s petition to pilot a municipal energy aggregation program in Westchester County with an order that enabled this first-in-New-York effort.

What is a community choice or municipal energy aggregation program?

In states with deregulated energy supply markets, energy service companies m
ay sell electric or gas supply to consumers. New York deregulated about twenty years ago. About seventy energy service companies are authorized to sell supply as a commodity to New York customers. Some are more scrupulous than others. Acquiring retail supply customers one at a time is expensive for the supply companies. As individuals, customers have no bargaining power with the suppliers.

When all the homes and small businesses in a city bid out their combined electric supply together, suddenly, economies of scale help both the customer and supplier reduce costs and increase rate choices. Community choice programs have been commonplace and successful in six other states, but now for the first time, in New York State as well.

Ever since the February order, the Sustainable Westchester’s team hit the road to visit with dozens of city, town and villages all across the County. Municipalities that were interested in joining the aggregation program needed to adopt local legislation enabling them to proceed. Benefitting from great pro-bono advisers, the team prepared draft legislation and resolutions to assist the municipalities.

Next, the team pre-screened energy service companies to identify those that best fit our criteria, such as transparent business practices, good customer service, creditworthiness and ample experience supplying community choice aggregation programs in other states. In addition, the team developed a comprehensive Electric Service Agreement with ample protections for the municipalities and consumers and worked with attorneys from twenty municipalities to finalize all the language.

The Westchester Power Program introduced a few conditions that went well beyond the February Order to benefit the consumers. First, the energy bid required that bidders accept the Electric Service Agreement terms and conditions verbatim. Second, bidders needed to provide a basic supply rate for a fixed period of no less than 24 months that would be lower than the benchmark of the average 2015 basic supply rate from the default local distribution utility (ConEdison or NYSEG). Third, bidders needed to provide a 100% renewable energy supply rate as well for that same period. Fourth, bidders had to allow individual customers in a participating municipality to leave or enter the program or switch between the two rates with no added fees or penalties.

By the time, the team sent out the Request for Proposals to the pre-screened supply firm, over 110,000 homes and businesses in twenty cities, towns and villages were included as potential customers. This buyers group represents four out of ten county residents, a remarkable feat of collective action all by itself.

The day the bids were opened led to a startling realization that both the basic supply rate and the 100% renewable supply rates were below the 2015 benchmarks from ConEdison and NYSEG.

“Suppliers who really wanted to enter the New York aggregation market stepped up,” notes Glenn Weinberg, the lead consultant. “In the end, buying 100% renewable energy green supply for the next two or three years will cost less than buying the basic, brown supply last year.”

By the time the program goes live in May, over 70,000 homes and small businesses will be buying 100% renewable energy supply in the fourteen cities, towns, and villages that chose to make that option the default for their jurisdiction. These customers “going 100% green” represent three out of ten county residents and, astoundingly, two-thirds of the entire 110,000 consumers in the program.

“Collectively, our consumers choosing the green option will buy 650,000 megawatt-hours per year of certified renewable energy credits,” states Leo Wiegman, Sustainable Westchester’s Executive Director, “That amount is the energy output equivalent to adding 84,000 residential solar systems in the county overnight.”

“Our instant market for clean, non-fossil, non-nuclear energy supply is the largest collective action in New York to date to address climate change and create real market demand for clean energy.” concludes Weinberg.

For more information, visit www.westchesterpower.org.

 

Making a Sound Investment in Energy

March 2016 E-news

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Some events over the last few weeks are a reminder that we should take pause to fully assess the energy sources that we, residents of Westchester County, are investing in.

Over the course of four weeks our backyard has endured a ‘radioactive’ water leak from Indian Point Energy Center, and a home-heating oil spill contaminating the Bronx River. Not to mention there has been the ongoing battle concerning the high-pressure natural gas AIM pipeline expansion, which has received countless calls demanding construction to be halted.

We think it is high time that we collectively take stock and reevaluate where we want our energy to come from.

Background:

Indian Point ‘radioactive’ water leak

Indian Point has been at the center of many contentious discussions for decades. The facility is aging, and for years there have been reports of cracks, spills, and accidents. On Tuesday, February 6th, it was reported that Indian Point recorded a severe spike in radioactive, tritium-contaminated water at several monitoring wells[i]. The follow-up tests done a few days later on February 10th noted that the highest concentration was 80% higher than originally reported.

This leak is a major concern; it potentially threatens the health of the Westchester’s residents and environment. Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken steps to address this issue, starting a state investigation into the nuclear facility[ii]. Entergy, the company that owns the Indian Point facility, states that this latest leak should be of no concern to the public.

Home-heating oil spill contaminating the Bronx River

On Saturday, February 28th as much as 600 gallons of home-heating oil contaminated the Bronx River[iii]when a truck delivering to an apartment complex in Yonkers began to leak.

Approximately 2,100 gallons of oil spilled onto the roadway, of which 600 gallons drained down the storm drain on the road.[iv] The Department of Environmental Conservation and the Coast Guard were notified, and are staying on top of the situation.

Let’s make a sound investment:

We know that accidents happen, due to either human or mechanical error, mistakes are a normal occurrence in our daily lives – we get it. However we also think that these latest events are a window into the real risks these energy sources pose.

Renewable energy offers significant public health and environmental benefits. Air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas is linked to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer; and replacing these energy sources with renewables has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays, and reduced overall healthcare costs.[v]

 


 

We think it is time to seriously invest in safer, greener, renewable fuels and move away from potentially contaminating sources.

[i] Riverkeeper, Environmental and Health Organizations Call for Immediate Indian Point Shutdown (http://www.riverkeeper.org/news-events/news/stop-polluters/power-plant-cases/indian-point/environmental-and-health-organizations-call-for-immediate-indian-point-shutdown/)

[ii] LOHUD, NY to probe ‘radioactive’ water leak at Indian Point, 2/6/16 (http://www.lohud.com/story/news/politics/politics-on-the-hudson/2016/02/06/ny-probe-radioactive-water-leak-indian-point/79929984/)

[iii] LOHUD, Oil truck leaking near Bronx River, 2/27/16 (http://www.lohud.com/story/news/2016/02/27/oil-truck-leaking-near-bronx-river/81030662/)

[iv] DEC- DHSES Statement on Heating Oil Spill in Yonkers, NY (http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/NYSDEC/bulletins/1399a46?reqfrom=share)

[v] Machol, Rizk. 2013. Economic value of U.S. fossil fuel electricity health impacts. Environment International 52 75–80 (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/public-benefits-of-renewable.html#references)

Greening Your Blue Jeans

March 2016 E-News

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Dungarees, Levi’s, daisy dukes, denim – whatever you call them, blue they use a lot of water.

We all wear blue jeans, they are an American staple. But what is less commonly known, is how heavily the textile industry relies on water. To make one pair of stonewashed jeans requires about 500 gallons of water to grow, dye and process the cotton[i].

Americans throw away about 11.1 million tons of textiles annually (clothes, blankets, towels, etc)[ii] – that is a lot of water going to waste. This concern is becoming increasingly more important as the south-western United States continues to face extreme drought conditions[iii]. Access to water is only going to become more difficult due to climate change and demand, therefore we need a solution. One that is becoming increasingly popular, especially in our area is textile recycling.

Textile recycling companies see an opportunity to capitalize on the old t-shirts and blue jeans being thrown away. SpinGreen is an example of one such company operating in the New York Metro Area. SpinGreen advertises that “a stained t-shirt can turn into a wiping cloth, lone socks can turn into pillow stuffing, old denim can be turned into housing insulation, and teddy bears can be turned into car seat stuffing…[iv]” By finding a use for this often discarded resource, SpinGreen and other companies have found a way to profit while keeping organic products out of landfills.

SpinGreen has customized bins set up at various locations throughout our area, and they even offer a Green Concierge service. Keep an eye out for one in your neighborhood!

 


 

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/polina-groman/recycling-textiles-quench_b_5413363.html

[ii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/polina-groman/recycling-textiles-quench_b_5413363.html

[iii] http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

[iv] http://www.spingreen.com/faq/

Eagles and the Hudson

By Kate Munz, Member Relations Coordinator

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Photo Credit: NYTimes on 5th Annual Eaglefest

In honor of Teatown’s EagleFest, we wanted to highlight the star of the yearly event, the bald eagle.

In the Hudson Valley we are very lucky to share space each season with this majestic, and nationally famous neighbor. While can see bald eagles yearly now, this was not always the case.

Before the 1900s, bald eagle populations in New York were plentiful, as many as 80 nesting sites according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. But by 1976, only one pair of eaglets remained. Environmental groups citied pesticides, specifically DDT, for the reduced numbers. During that year, the state began its Bald Eagle Restoration Project as an attempt to bring back the population.

Today, approximately 500 bald eagles winter in New York. The eagles migrate to this region, usually arriving in December, as waters freeze in Canada and Nova Scotia. Eagle concentrations peak in January and February; heading back to their nests by mid-March.

We’ve seen the return of our eagles due to clean air and water, ample food supply, and largely undisturbed stands of trees – as these are important elements that support breeding pairs of eagles. It is therefore essential that we maintain this important habitat. Together we can work towards open space preservation and watershed protection.

Learn more about what you can do by visiting this page: http://www.birdday.org/birdday/themes/2012-twenty-years-of-imbd/20-ways-to-conserve-birds