It's been a year since the City Council voted 6-2 for a $6 million contract with a Chattanooga-based innovative street lighting system and few lights have been produced, but Global Green Lighting owner Don Lepard said they are on the way.
Mr. Lepard said there was a design delay involving the light control switch, but he said crews at the former Chattanooga Group plant in Hixson have that out of the way and are getting to work on the big order. He said about 500 LED lights have been delivered to the city and he expects all 6,000 to be in the city's hands by the end of May. He said it may take until the end of June until they are all installed.
Meanwhile, EPB officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the city's leap into a contract that could total $20 million when all the city's 27,000 street lights are included.
EPB President Harold DePriest said he advised the city to "go into this slowly. Global Green Lighting is a relatively new company without a proven track record."
Mr. DePriest said it is yet to be seen just how long new LED lights will last and if they are worth their high cost. He said a major portion of the cost savings presented to the city involved dimming the lights through a radio grid control system. But he said police and citizens fearful of crime may want to keep the lights shining brightly.
Mr. Lepard said the LED lights are brighter than the current sodium lights even when dimmed to 50 percent. He said city police officers will be able to raise the power on any city street light through the use of their laptop computer in their patrol car.
Mr. DePriest also cited the fact that often street lights are broken and damaged and have to be replaced. Mr. Lepard said his lights are vandalism proof. He said if any of the nine bars involved in a light do get broken that just the broken bar needs to be replaced - not the whole light.
A press release this week about the Hixson operation's potential to go to 250 jobs said, "EPB, Chattanooga’s municipally-owned power provider, has certified GGL’s outdoor lighting solution, making it the world’s only product of its kind that has been authenticated by an electric utility to deliver energy savings to the city in real-time."
EPB officials said they do not certify lighting systems. Mr. DePriest said the utility has only approved the meter that was designed for the light.
Officials have been slow to replace existing street lights that burn out while waiting on the new LED lights, causing some business owners to complain that darkened lots have become security problems. To that, Mr. Lepard said the new lights should arrive soon and some are already on hand.
Mr. Lepard said, "EPB is being paid $85,000 a month by the city of Chattanooga to maintain the lights. If any lights are not being replaced, it is because of EPB. It's not the city's choice. There are 500 lights in the warehouse now waiting to be installed by EPB."
Meanwhile, Soddy Daisy officials thought they had the plant and 100 jobs secured, but are now finding it has gone elsewhere.
In May 2011, then-Mayor Jim Adams and Commissioner Geno Shipley posed with Mr. Lepard at the Soddy Daisy Industrial Park. Officials said a $550,000 Community Development Block Grant (a state loan) had been signed by Soddy-Daisy to furnish equipment for the facility.
Burt Johnson, Soddy Daisy finance director, said Global Lighting officials had urged him to speed up the grant process, asking that it be Fed Exed. But he said after it was sent off, he heard no more. Mr. Johnson said he drove by the firm's leased warehouse in Soddy Daisy recently during business hours and the parking lot was empty.
Commissioner Adams said he made a similar visit and was told that Mr. Lepard now had an office in Hixson.
He said, "Don Lepard called me and said he wanted to recruit workers for Soddy Daisy. Then the next thing I knew they had moved to Hixson."
Mr. Lepard said the business has grown so fast that the Soddy Daisy location was too small. He said the University of Alabama has signed up to light its campus with the LED lights, and he said there are ongoing talks with 26 cities. He said his company did not take any of the loan funds that had been approved for the Soddy Daisy operation.
He said there are 40 employees at the Hixson plant and that should move to 100 by mid-summer and perhaps to the 250 by the end of the year.
Mr. Lepard said equipment for assembling the lights that had been in China has been shipped to the plant off Adams Road. He said the plant has a total of 180,000 square feet, and his firm is occupying 130,000 square feet. It is involved in a lease-purchase on the facility.
He said his firm is bringing jobs back to America and occupying a plant whose former occupant went across the border to Mexico.
He said the LED lights are in place and working well in Coolidge Park, along Frazier Avenue and on the Walnut Street Bridge. He said the city signed the $6 million contract after a successful $251,000 experiment with the lights at Coolidge Park. He said he gets draws on the money as the lights are delivered.
Mr. Lepard said the next phase of LED lights is planned for downtown along the main arteries, including Market, Broad and Chestnut streets. He said new Mayor Andy Berke may want to deploy some of those in areas where there have been significant crime problems.
Mr. Lepard said once the 6,000 lights are in place in Chattanooga, he will ask city officials to complete the order for all the city's street lights, which he said may have a grand total of $18 million to $20 million.