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For immediate release: May 20, 2002
Media Contact: Rob Schlichting - 916-654-4989

Battery Backups at Critical Traffic Signals Prevent Accidents During Power Outages

Sacramento - Good news for California motorists: blacked out traffic signals at major intersections could soon become a thing of the past.

The California Energy Commission is accepting applications from cities and counties seeking to keep their traffic signals operating if the electricity goes out. The new public safety program will provide battery backup protection for high priority intersections equipped with LED (light emitting diode) lamps.

"When electric power fails and signal lights go out at a busy corner, traffic slows to a crawl," explained Energy Commissioner Robert Pernell. "Automobile accidents increase, and pedestrians find that weaving their way through the unregulated maze can be a dangerous, challenging prospect. But now local governments can protect critical intersections from power interruptions that can threaten motorists and pedestrians alike."

Legislation passed last September sets aside $8.5 million in matching grants to help pay for new battery backup systems. An additional $1.5 million was appropriated to pay for systems that were installed between January 1 and September 28, 2001, in response to the State's electricity crisis.

Battery backup systems are the result of new technology. Newly installed traffic signals utilize more efficient, LED lamps that cut the amount of electricity used by each light from as much as 150 watts to between 10 to 25 watts. Since the electricity needed to operate LED lights can be 85 percent less than that needed by incandescent lamps, it's now technically possible to provide backup power for critical intersections.

Earlier, the State allocated $11.8 million to help convert California intersections to more efficient LED lights. These grants, along with low-interest loans provided by the Energy Commission, have helped local governments convert over a third of the State's intersections to LED lights. The new signals now save over $8 million a year in energy costs and reduce energy use by over 10 megawatts enough electricity to power 10,000 typical California homes.

"In addition to saving energy, LED traffic signals by themselves are brighter and easier to see in foggy conditions," said Pernell. "Thanks to their low energy use, we can now protect critical intersections that use LEDs from dangerous power outages that can cause accidents."

Battery systems cost between $1,800 and $3,000, depending on the number of lights at the intersection. Each system provides enough electricity to operate the traffic signals in the normal, fully functioning mode or as red flashing lights for two hours. After that time, the signals will flash red for another two hours, alerting motorists that the intersection is operating as a four-way stop.

Since local governments best understand which of their intersections are most vulnerable, the Energy Commission established an advisory committee of cities, counties, local utilities and CalTrans representatives. The committee advised the Commission on ways to identify high priority intersections, using criteria such as traffic volume, the number of accidents and the presence of children at the intersection. Under the program, cities or counties can receive up to 70 percent of the equipment costs to install a backup system.

Applications for these matching grants are being accepted by the Commission until a cutoff date of June 21, 2002. Grants for the battery backup systems will be awarded starting in August 2002. Recipients will then have one year to complete the installation.

Additional information can be found on the Energy Commission Website. Application forms can be downloaded at:

www.energy.ca.gov/peakload

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