SAN ANTONIO - Earlier this year we told you the City of San Antonio and CPS Energy are spending more than $14 million of your money to replace street lights with energy saving LED fixtures. Now the News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters have uncovered that all 25,000 of the fixtures had to be sent back to the manufacturer because of a glaring defect.
Close to 2,000 of the street lights are already up in a few areas around the city, but installations came to a halt a few weeks ago when some of the new fixtures began to fail. That wasn’t the first problem with the lights, either. Jaie Avila has the Inside Story on a program CPS Energy has been trying to keep in the shadows.
The western portion of Stone Oak is one of the first areas to receive the new LED street lights. Homeowners told us they're happy with the new fixtures... when they work.
“They seem to be working now better than what was here previously, but we did notice there's one out on our street and it's dark,” said Amy Green.
In September CPS Energy noticed something similar happening: some of the new lights going dark shortly after installation. And the cause? Rain… getting into the fixtures and shorting them out.
“We found that there was an issue with about a millimeter space on a gasket and so that gasket allowed moisture to come in,” said Lisa Lewis, a CPS Energy spokesperson.
Back in Stone Oak, Amy Green expressed disbelief, “That's pretty surprising to me that they wouldn't be tested for that, something that's going to be outside.”
CPS Energy says the lights were tested to see if they could withstand rainfall. Initially they passed the test, but the failures occurred later, after the fixtures were installed around the city.
The utility says the defect is not a big deal, even though all installed fixtures had to be taken down, and all 25,000 street lights had to be returned to the manufacturer.
CPS Energy says GreenStar, a local company that makes the lights, and Toshiba, which markets them, made an "adjustment" that fixed the problem. The city didn't have to pay anything extra and CPS claims it hasn't caused any delay in installing the lights.
However, we learned this wasn't the first "adjustment" that had to be made.
CPS Energy had earlier asked GreenStar to re-design a part of the light that senses when the sun is out and turns the light off to save energy. That sensor was vulnerable to another outdoor hazard.
“Isn't it true that the sensor had to be redesigned because it could be covered up by bird droppings and leave the light burning during the day?”, Jaie Avila asked CPS Energy spokesperson Lisa Lewis.
“We did ask the design team to make some modifications for our purposes, yes,” Lewis said.
CPS Energy says it evaluated LED fixtures made by eight different manufacturers before selecting the GreenStar/Toshiba lights. The Trouble Shooters submitted an open records request to see how the lights performed against those other models. Most government agencies are required to release that kind of information when they spend so much of your money. But under a special state law, CPS Energy, and other city run utilities are allowed to keep it a secret.
“Why is that? Why can't the public see how these lights performed when they were compared to other lights?” Avila asked.
Lewis responded, “It would not be appropriate to release that information because it's competitive in nature for the particular manufacturers. The respective manufacturers do not want their specific details released including pricing.”
The utility wouldn't even let us see where they're storing the lights. But we found their warehouse, where the fixtures are piled up, still in their boxes, with markings on the ones that have been “upgraded” to protect them from the rain.
We'll have to take CPS Energy's word for it that they chose the best lights out there, because we're being kept in the dark about the decision.