Don Lepard with new light design
In a speech billed as "The Best Is Yet To Come," Global Green Lighting president Don Lepard told members of the Chattanooga Engineers Club he has come up with even bigger uses for the once-simple street light.
Mr. Lepard earlier gained a huge contract with the city for high-tech LED street lights only to have it shelved by a new city administration. He later filed a "whistleblower" lawsuit against EPB in a dispute over its billing of the city for street lights.
The former Chattanooga football player said his firm earlier came up with "the only street lighting system in the world with built-in meters" that allow the lights to be remotely brightened or dimmed and which can monitor power usage.
The new idea, he said, is to use the street light system to power WiFi, for cell phone transmission, for deployment of security cameras, and sensor devices that would gauge anything from air quality to nearby meth labs.
Mr. Lepard said he obtained a patent in June 2012 for a $150 Power Over Ethernet (POE) device that would be hitched to a street light and make the various applications possible.
The speaker said, with the patented device in hand, he would be able to offer cities like Chattanooga new high-efficiency street lights for free, along with citywide WiFi.
He said his firm would reserve the right to charge monthly service fees to the city, to cell phone firms, and to users of the sensors. Mr. Lepard said he and public relations specialist Davis Lundy were already in talks with Verizon and had another session with the firm later in the day.
Mr. Lepard said Global Green Lighting would have an Internet portal on the free WiFi and sell ad space on the site.
He said the new plan "is a game changer" for Chattanooga and other cities who do not have the money for a major capital investment in new street lights.
Mr. Lepard said some cities and utilities have given his ideas short shrift "because they have their heads in the sand. They are facing revenue reduction, but they are still trying to protect a 40-year-old model of operation."
Noting some local hostility, he said, "Others are excited about what we are offering."
Mr. Lepard said his firm is still monitoring the lights that GGL put in downtown and in Avondale. He said crime was reduced by double digits for 2012 and 2013 in those sectors - partially due to the brighter lighting.
But he said city police officers "hardly ever" use the feature that allows them to brighten or dim street lights via their in-car computers. He said they are not encouraged to do so by police higher-ups.
The speaker said he is in talks with several investors concerning his new plan.
Mr. Lepard said after the city balked at continuing his contract, he had to move out of a Hixson plant. He said it was sold the next day to another firm. He said he moved back to warehouse space in Soddy Daisy.
But he said he later received an offer from businessman Larry Armour to use 60,000 feet of space in the former Bi-Lo distribution center at Highway 153 and Shallowford Road. He said the former Hixson plant is being rebuilt there and should be in operation by the end of the month.
Mr. Lepard said he at one time planned to move his plant to Memphis, but he said a deal there did not work out. He said, "I found out I did not want to be spending my time in Memphis."
He said if he wins his EPB lawsuit that he won't keep any of the money. He said it was brought because he wanted the correct street lighting charges to be determined and paid.
Don Lepard, left, and club president Harry Hawkins