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Meeting Notes - January 9, 2008 (Lighting Presentation)

This presentation by took the Place of the regular Conservation Commission meeting on Jan. 9, 2008.



Peter Lord Island Astronomy Institute

Presentation to the Lamoine Conservation Commission

January 9, 2008

The Island Astronomy Institute was established to meet the need for more physical science in the schools.


Light is the very opposite of a bad thing. It equals safety in civilization— each technological increase in lighting has brought on an advance in civilization. Whale oil was a superior oil for interior lighting. Gas street lights cut crime and increased the hours of the commercial day.

The first electric lights are only a few years old historically—we date electric light from only 1879. The advent of electric light brought on an unintended experiment by permitting a change to life's day-night cycle on a large scale.

The issue with light is not to suppress it, but to put it where, when and in the amount needed to do the work that we need it to do. To throw light UP is a waste of energy, which we need to conserve for a myriad of reasons. One estimate puts the value of light wasted by being directed up at $10.4 billion per year in the United States alone.

The Starlit Sky

Throwing light up has drastically affected the sky as viewed by human being, particularly in the northern hemisphere, and even more particularly in Europe and North America . Only 20 stars are generally visible from New York City . Two-thirds of the population of the United States cannot see the Milky Way.

Maine has more starlight than any other state east of the Mississippi River . Even where there is a large light source, it is often a point source that can be blocked out and allow view of a pretty good sky.

Unlike other environmental degradations which have very bleak prognoses, the starlit sky is an area of activism that has a high potential for success. The basic reason for this is that voluntary efforts can be very successful. The reasons behind that reason are:

•  The cost of avoiding the bad outcome—wasted energy going UP—is not prohibitive, particularly if a particular piece of development is done right the first time; and

•  The initial efficiencies are fairly high—existing technology can cut waste light by 50%.

Mapping the Night Sky

There is an interesting map of the night sky done by a couple of College of the Atlantic students (See ) . Peter plotted 168 data points along the roads on MDI and two students pulled all-nighters using hand-held meters to measure the light at each data point. The Pemetic School in Southwest Harbor is now doing a similar project to introduce grade school students to science.

Comparisons to this data area available for 1997, and Bar Harbor in 2007 has the same brightness as Bangor in 1997.

Steps to Prevent Further Degradation of the Starlit Sky

The challenge now is to balance the interests of safety and security and the interests of promoting commerce with the interests of natural resources and wildlife (lit buildings kill millions of birds a year), human health, culture and science. Tools are being developed to strike this balance and some of those tools are expressed in ordinances regulating the installation o flights in new construction.

One important concept is that of “full cut-off lights,” which do not allow light to escape above the horizontal. By the use of mirrors within the fixture they use less energy to direct the same or more light down on the subject of the lighting while limiting the light wasted by moving up. All ordinances relating to lighting encourage the use of this technology. The new Lowe's parking lot features fixtures that look like suspended shoeboxes are fixtures for full cut-off lighting. These lights are also being used on High Street in Ellsworth. These fixtures are not more expensive than conventional fixtures, unless they require a new or extra pole, as the poles are a definite expense.

Light that shines in your eyes produces glare, which can actually decrease the visibility of the object to be illuminated. Lighting which allows lighting of neighboring property can be regarded as “light trespass,” or violating a “right to dark.” Ellsworth has an ordinance which is strong on light trespass.

Acadia National Park as a Leader on this Issue

Light trespass can be seen as needlessly degrading a natural resource, but we are not used to thinking of darkness as a natural resource. Acadia National Park is a national leader in treating darkness as a resource. It has adopted a policy of “dark sky friendly lighting.” The campgrounds are being reworked so that there will not be any floodlights. The Sand Beach entrance was expensive to retrofit due to the need to put up new poles. (Peter's Note: The Visitor's Center is now one of the best examples of dark sky lighting on MDI, the lighting at park head quarters is due for the next comprehensive make over., and the Jackson Lab has replaced the most intrusive of its fixtures . The new Gateway Center will use these technologies from the outset as has the brand new SERC facility on Schoodic Peninsula ).

One commonly needed replacement is of the “side pack” security lights on public buildings. The Lamoine Town Hall has a classic example.

There are advantages to a community-wide and regional approach to lighting issues. Eyes adapt, so uniformity of lighting improves visibility at the lowest level.

There is also the reality of “light competition,” in which a business with more lighting than its neighbors will, in fact, be more visible, requiring its neighbors to increase the amount of their lighting. Motion sensors and timed cut-off lights may be ways to cut down on commercial lighting, but they are not cheap to implement as a retrofit.

A great deal of public lighting is roadside lighting (Peter's Note: which is very well understood in metropolitan and urban environments, but the science on the intermittent form of lighting widely found in rural locations is the least understood and most complex). There is no consensus yet as to what is best when continuous fully engineered lighting is not being used, so it is best to avoid this subject in an ordinance. In addition, generally this needs to be regulated at the State, not Town , level.

At the neighbor to neighbor level, there are policy shifts that needs to be made by the Public Utilities Commission on a statewide basis. Bangor Hydro-electric Company, for instance, will install a floodlight on an existing pole for free, because there is a monthly charge for that light. It does not have in stock any full cut-off lights. The best Bangor Hydro will do is to spray paint part (Peter's Note: I was just heard this is being discontinued but have not confirmed with BH) of the light with paint so as to reduce the glare onto a neighboring property. There are available commercially $15.00 parashields that would work on the home PAR-style floodlights and the potential may exist for educational materials that could teach an offended neighbor what to offer the person who feels they need the security of a floodlight.

What Citizens Can Do

The Town Hill store of Ellsworth Building Supplies has started to stock darkness friendly fixtures. Clarissa at EBS is building expertise in this area. By contrast, when Wal-Mart comes to town there is no one even to talk to about this concern as they have their nationally approved plans. Nothing will change this except an ordinance that allows the Town or City to require better lighting design. Ellsworth does require full cut-off lighting, so the recent big box construction implements this technology, though not with the best possible types of lights. These larger projects will not respond to late requests to modify their lighting, the requirements need to be in an ordinance are the beginning of the planning process. Smaller sources of light who care more for local opinion are better candidates for activism aimed at voluntary improvements.

Next Steps

Peter and the Institute are working with the National Park to do more sophisticated light testing this year. (Peter's note: Our next measurement will be at the Acadia Gateway center) In addition they are actively working on a comprehensive series of three model ordinances (Peter's Note: starting with a simple one page version for small towns without qualitative enforcement capabilities).


Audience comment pointed out that it ought to be feasible to get out the message that you can have all the light you want and still save money and energy by focusing that light. Another comment was that the model ordinance might be presented to all of the Towns around Frenchman Bay to provide a consistent level of lighting around the Bay.

The presentation, which included many fascinating satellite photos and composites of light on earth as seen from space, was followed by spirited informal discussion.

[Compiled by Fred Stocking from his notes, not a complete summary of the presentation. Supplemented with some notes from Peter Lord]