By Jeff Fox

John Pennell used to write a column in The Examiner.

A few years ago, he wondered in print if the city of Independence should look into LED street lights. They use less power, meaning less cost and less pollution.

That’s about the time Leon Daggett came on board as director of Independence Power and Light. City Manager Robert Heacock told him to check it out.

“Almost six years to the day, here we are celebrating Mr. Daggett’s achievement. Anybody can have an idea,” Pennell said Wednesday, standing in front of his home on Main Street a few blocks south of the Square.

His street now has LED streetlights, and officials had a quick ceremony to highlight Pennell’s contribution. By the end of the year, officials hope, all of the city’s 12,000 streetlights will have been converted to LED (light-emitting diode) lights. The work started in July. Mayor Don Reimal said it’s the largest city so far to have done this.

The city tested the idea in Fairmount and on part of the Little Blue Parkway in 2011 and 2012 and said the public reaction was positive. An informal survey, IPL says, showed 75 percent of citizens favoring the change.

That difference is noticeable. The amber glow of the current high-intensity discharge lights is replaced with the white of LED. Pennell said one key difference is that more light is focused on streets and sidewalks and less bleeds over onto lawns and porches and into front windows.

He noticed something he didn’t expect.

“I started getting better sleep,” he said.

The city estimates it will save $450,000 a year in energy and maintenance costs and will spare the atmosphere 10 million pounds of greenhouse gases – roughly the same as taking 880 cars off the road. It will be “a significant savings for our city, for our ratepayers, for our taxpayers,” Daggett said.

The bulbs are designed to last at least 25 years, and officials estimated they’ll recoup the cost of those in 10 years.

“That’s a good return on our money,” Reimal said.

Pennell sees other benefits. Less light on the yard and porch, he suggested, creates fewer crimes of opportunity for troublemakers.

“And I think that’ll be an added benefit that we haven’t even thought of,” he said.

He said there’s something bigger too: This is the kind of thing that makes Independence what he called a leading city. Any power and light director across the state or elsewhere, he said, could have made this move that Daggett has followed up on.

“And he’s the only one who did the work,” Pennell said.