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LEDs to bring the bling back in Islamabad nights

November 26, 2011

ISLAMABAD: Streetlights have long lightened the streets at night but for the Capital Development Authority (CDA) they've been a bit heavy on its limited funds.

The agency is desperately looking into ways to make the lighting system of the capital efficient and seems to have made a breakthrough: with the help of a loan by the Asian Development Bank, it will replace the traditional sodium street lamps with the newer and efficient light-emitting diodes (LED).

Right now the Capital Development Authority (CDA) pays approximately Rs1.4 billion in power streetlights and spends Rs400 million on maintaining and replacing bulbs and fixtures from its Rs6 billion non-development expenditure. On an average, the cost for running and maintaining the streetlights has increased by 30 to 40 per cent for the last couple of years, and these figures do not include the salary that the CDA pays to 400 employees who are part of the electrical maintenance wing.

Given the sharp spikes in electricity bills and the fact that the non-development expenditure crossed Rs6 billion this year while the authority earned only Rs2 billion through taxes, the civic agency is squirming over its financial liabilities.

Last year, the CDA and Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco) had chalked out a plan under which the agency would lit every third streetlight instead of all the 65,000 streetlights in the capital.

The plan was implemented but there was no visible financial impact on CDA or the monthly electricity bill – it was said that the Iesco was sending estimated bills to the authority due to lack of metering system.

However, the CDA got a breather when the ministry of water and power launched its Energy Efficiency Investment Programme and obtained a $780 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Part of the programme is the installation of LED to provide efficient and cheap lighting. Under the government's instructions, the CDA also opted to have the LED system to make the federal capital the first city in the country to replace conventional lighting with LEDs.

A letter issued by Aftab Ahmed Nadeem, Deputy Secretary (power) ministry of water and power, on November 10 said: “The competent authority has consented to support the project under ADB's MFF Energy Efficiency Programme.”

Last month, the CDA sent the PC-I of the project to the Planning Commission and Central Development Working Party (CDWP), which agreed to the project in principle but recommended that the PC-I be upgraded and the project completed in phases.

Following this the CDA upgraded the PC-I by conducting a study which estimated that the authority will save 8-9 MGW per day by installing the LED light system.

The ADB also started a process to confirm that it will financially support the project. The total loan given by the ADB to the ministry for LED projects all over the country is said to be $780 million. The CDA project will cost $70 million of which $55 million will be the loan and the remaining 25 per cent will be borne by the agency.

In all, the CDA will replace 65,000 streetlights in three years. It has already selected the lowest bidder (an Italian firm) for this purpose.

The LED lights have a 20 year life and have improved night visibility. And unlike the current conventional lights that remain switched on during broad daylight, the LED lights have smart technology that enables them to automatically turn off when dawn arrives.

It is believed that the CDA will save between Rs800 million and Rs1 billion per year, and the soft loan taken from ADB will be paid back in five years as the electricity bill will be slashed drastically. So no extra burden will be placed on the CDA and the national exchequer.

It will also not have to worry about maintenance of LED as the selected firm will provide free maintenance service besides imparting training to the CDA staff. Whereas the current electrical maintenance wing employees 400 people, the new LED system will need to be looked after no more than 10 people.

However, it has been learnt that some elements in the CDA and other departments concerned are creating hurdles in the way of execution of the project fearing that the way of kickbacks and commission, gained in the name of 'maintenance' of conventional street lights and 'adjustment' in billing, will be blocked forever. For now though the project seems right on track.