Designs help block light pollution along main streets

No laws have been passed to require them, but Northern Virginia electric companies already use sharp cut-off light fixtures for street lights to reduce glare and light pollution.

The Virginia General Assembly took up bills related to light pollution for the first time this year but failed to pass any that would have increased jurisdictions’ regulatory power. Other states have adopted stricter rules that lead to light fixtures that do not emit light over wide areas, which causes glare, or upward, reducing visibility of the night sky.

“Everything we’re putting up, street lights and security lights, are dark-sky friendly,” said Bob Magnuson, distribution engineering manager for Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, which serves portions of Prince William County and Manassas Park. He said jurisdictions can request the old style of lights, which Fairfax has done for some of its older subdivisions for aesthetic reasons.

Bulbs are made flat or hooded to prevent light emissions above the horizontal plane.

“If that’s what the customer wants, that’s what we do,” said Dominion Virginia Power spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson.

The thing is, hardly anyone has requested the sharp cut-off light fixtures, she said. Fairfax County has asked for the newer fixtures on its major roads, she said, and they are installed at no difference in cost.

“We haven’t had Prince William specifically ask us,” she said, a point that Prince William Public Works officials could not confirm at Tuesday afternoon.

Prince William Public Works uses the sky-friendly light fixtures in its lighting program — which allocates five lights per county magisterial district a year — and in new developments, said Tom Bruun, assistant director of county public works. “We have gone to using flat lenses that do not shine up,” he said.

Businesses going in without the need for public review cannot be forced to use full cut-off fixtures but are advised on lighting options and many times voluntarily comply, said county planning director Rick Lawson.

“Usually it’s ‘Sure, we’re glad to do it,'” he said.

Prince William County officials meet annually with light pollution advocates, including people from the Hopewell Observatory on Bull Run Mountain and the international Dark Sky Association, he said.

The county controls glare for all site developments, he said. Athletic fields are lit for the light to shine inward as much as possible, and commercial establishments cannot freely light themselves up when glare makes driving unsafe, he said.

There are ways to draw attention to a business, but as Dark Sky Association representatives have shown, it can be done without sending light everywhere, he said.

“That’s an overdone way of drawing attention to a site,” he said.

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