Indy Lights the Way Toward a Brighter Future

by Thomas P. Healy

Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) has cleared the necessary regulatory hurdles to allow it to move forward with streetlight retrofitting and new installations throughout the city. According to Claire Dalton, IPL’s public relations manager, the LED conversion agreement between IPL and the City of Indianapolis enables IPL to convert the majority of the streetlights paid for by the City (estimated at more than 27,000) to LED technology over the next three years.

“The agreement was submitted to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (PDF) as well as the City of Indianapolis City-County Council. (PDF)  Both the Commission and the City-County Council approved the agreement at the end of 2017,” she said. Dalton noted that the agreement also updates the process by which the City has IPL install additional lights and includes a commitment to coordinate procedures to promptly address any street lighting operational issues. “IPL is currently working with the City to develop a request for proposal (RFP) for contractors to bid on converting the lights,” Dalton said, adding, “Once the contractor is selected, we anticipate the retrofit will begin in the second quarter of this year.”

At Mayor Joe Hogsett’s February media briefing, Corporation Counsel Andy Mallon confirmed that a 30-day RFP was issued February 9. An announcement is expected within the next 45 days. Deputy Mayor Thomas Cook said retrofitting would occur prior to installation of new fixtures because the savings from retrofitting of existing fixtures would pay for new lights.

The savings from conversion totals nearly $800,000. According to IPL, on average, one existing high-pressure sodium (HPS) light paid for by the City costs a little less than $150 per year. “We anticipate the rate of one converted LED light will cost a little less than $120 per year,” said IPL’s Dalton. “It’s important to note that this reduced rate results from the City’s capital investment of approximately $12 million. So, overall, we anticipate the City will save about $30 per year per light after the conversion is complete,” she added.

On Feb. 5, IPL’s parent company, The AES Corporation, announced a restructuring that ousted Sanchez. An IPL spokeswoman said the change would not prevent the conversion project from moving forward.


The move is part of the next phase of the “Operation Night Light” initiative—a collaboration between the City and IPL. Launched in June 2016 when Mayor Joe Hogsett issued Executive Order No. 3 that lifted the City’s 35-year moratorium on new streetlights, the initiative included IPL’s agreement to install 100 new streetlights around the City. At the time, IPL president and CEO Rafael Sanchez announced the utility’s intention to fund a residential lighting study “to evaluate the lighting needs throughout our entire service territory to determine the best cost-effective options to enhance safety and quality of life.”

IPL contracted with the Indiana University Public Policy Institute (PPI) to undertake the study. Joti Kaur, a PPI program analyst who worked on the study, said the goal was to determine where additional streetlights could be placed for public benefit. “This was a very unique project and study,” she said. “We did a lot of back-end research to see if anything exists in this city and other cities, but there was really nothing in place.”

While acknowledging that PPI’s research uncovered plenty of studies on the effects of lighting on crime, pedestrian safety, or efficiency costs, Kaur said that the team “didn’t find anything that was speaking to where streetlights could go—the metrics about streetlight placements.”

This led the PPI team to take a forward-thinking approach. “Rather than looking at what had happened in the past, we tried to be proactive,” she said. “We held three public forums so people could provide input on where streetlights should go.”

Kaur said U.S. Census data was also helpful in developing the following metrics for determining streetlight placement:

  1. areas with high incidents of crimes against people
  1. areas with high incidents of crime against property
  1. locations with large numbers of pedestrian/vehicle accidents
  1. areas that include populations of people living with disabilities
  1. areas with limited vehicular access

Kaur said streetlight placement is not determined by any single metric. “It’s a function of multiple things, not one or the other.” She said many public forum attendees mentioned that streetlights are also good for place-making and economic development. “If you put in lights, it could encourage businesses to locate there,” she said. “We’re considering all the factors because you want to put streetlights where it would improve the quality of life of residents the most.”


PPI’s deliverable to IPL, which will be used by the City, is an interactive data analysis tool. It’s a combination of Tableau data software (Kaur called it “Excel on steroids”) and Mapbox, an open-source location data platform that Tableau is compatible with.

Kaur said the analytical tool can generate a list of what she termed “strategic amenities”—things like parks, cycling trails, commercial corridors, sidewalks, pedestrian walkability, libraries, and religious facilities. “These were all things we heard during public forums,” she said. “The City can consider these strategic amenities to inform the five base metrics and go into even more depth about where lights should be put.”

For example, Kaur mentioned parks. “You could zoom in to see a park that could use lights next to bike lanes, and those things could help the City make its decision.”

Work on the study began in autumn 2016 and concluded this summer. Kaur laughs as she recounts how being part of the research team had an influence on her life. “I got married in March, and on our honeymoon I was looking at how the streetlights were lit in the areas we visited.”

Besides adding a glow to her honeymoon, the reception with which the streetlight research was met has given her newfound enthusiasm in her community. “There are more people at the City now who are energized and thrilled about being innovative and using what’s been done and I’m actually really excited to be here and be part of this,” she said. “After graduate school I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in Indy or move, but if you go to DC or Seattle or another big city, it is what it is. Here, I get to be a part of making what Indy will be.”


If you see a street light not functioning properly, report it online at or by calling IPL’s “Lights Out, Day or Night” number: 317-261-8111.