The Village of Great Neck hired Canadian-based consultants RealTerm Energy to help guide the municipality’s transition from high-pressure sodium to LED (light-emitting diode) streetlights. The replacement process is expected to begin soon for 832 lamps, with RealTerm recommending and the Board of Trustees approving bulbs with a 3000K (Kelvin, a measure of color temperature) rating in residential areas and 4000K at intersections and major roads.
The Oct. 3 trustees meeting showed that the decision has not been universally approved. Mayor Pedram Bral and the board heard from a series of speakers who decried what they felt was the village leadership’s ignoring of potential negative health effects of LED lighting.
Last to appear during public comment on Oct. 3 was the most vociferous critic of the LED changeover, Judy Shore Rosenthal.
She began by noting that she had been in touch with Leotek, the bulb manufacturer that the village authorized RealTerm to deal with. According to email exchanges she quoted, Leotek questioned RealTerm’s suggestion that 4000K bulbs provided better color recognition index (CRI) at night. This has real-world consequences, for example, allowing emergency responders to distinguish between blood and oil at an accident scene or witnesses to better discern the color of a suspect’s vehicle.
“The Leotek representative has informed me that there are no significant differences in the CRI values between the 4000K and the 3000K bulbs,” Rosenthal noted. “I’m here because [Leotek] cannot be here. I’m sharing because I think this is a public issue. This is the time to speak, not later. It’s so much more costly to try to undo a major investment like this after the fact. I’m standing here telling you that the manufacturer says that they disagree with the reason we are being told by RealTerm to purchase these bulbs.”
She added, “The manufacturer is saying, if the reason we’re buying 4000K bulbs is because of greater cost savings to our community—and that is what RealTerm has been saying—the manufacturer is disagreeing again. They’re saying, based on the 800-bulb quantity that we are purchasing, there’s actually very little difference at all in the energy consumption.”
She went on to note that she and fellow resident Amy Glass had done a lot of research and dug deeply into the issue and wanted to share their findings with the village leadership and the public. Though Glass was not present at the Oct. 3 meeting, Rosenthal, in an email to the Great Neck Record, noted that her colleague “was employed for nine years as a copy editor for the American Institute of Physics. She was reviewing LED lights in their early stages of development and in various stages. She is now retired but her passion for science and understanding of complex, scientific material continues.
“So we’ve alerted you. We’ve been respectful. We kept at it,” Rosenthal told the board. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as persistent on anything in my entire life. Because something didn’t add up. The very first presentation that we received from RealTerm months ago was so vague, so missing of information, that something sparked our antennas. Something is wrong. These people are coming here to sell us something.”
Rosenthal also took issue with the smart technology associated with the installation. At a minimum, the software and hardware will enable the village, from a central location, to control individual lights. It can, for instance, dim lights when necessary, or even blink them to guide emergency responders to a specific location. RealTerm agreed to supply the funding for the software and help manage the system. Equipping light posts with smart controls will cost about $100,000 and RealTerm attested that it was better to install the control nodules at the same time as the lights, reducing installation costs considerably.
Consultant Mark Carter, at the Aug. 1 meeting, said there could be a number of uses for the smart controls with added application software, including monitoring the speeds of cars and traffic counters—even cameras were a possibility. This aspect of the installation is part of a Smart City pilot program that RealTerm would manage.
“I see there are serious ethics and privacy issues at stake with our village with respect to the RealTerm project and smart technology,” said Rosenthal, who quoted an email from Leotek noting the fixtures would be upgradeable and thus would have two additional wires.
“Why does that matter? Because the two additional wires—board and mayor and press and public who are sitting here—are going to allow the capability of surveillance cameras and sound sensors. And that is a matter of privacy and ethics for which the public has no awareness of. I have to tell you I’m appalled. I have felt for the past two weeks a terrific burden to know this information.”
Rosenthal added, “Our residents are unknowingly participating in the pilot program to benefit a Canadian firm. And I have to tell you after doing a lot of research, it certainly seems RealTerm has real objectives here behind this that are way greater than dealing with our village. Their bigger objectives are [to] get into the total security-integrated system market which is a very big market. There’s a hell of a lot of money involved with that.”
Rosenthal called RealTerm’s Aug. 1 presentation “a sham because…there was a PowerPoint presentation that no one could see. We couldn’t read the bullet points. It wasn’t handed to us when we walked out of the room. It wasn’t emailed to us. And those bullet points clearly revealed something that Great Neck residents should be made aware of: surveillance systems or even the possibility of that. To pick up sound is a Big Brother issue, and everyone I’ve discussed this with goes into great distress. And why are we taking great pains to be secretive about it? It looks like we got something to hide. Or it looks like RealTerm has something to hide.”
Rosenthal suggested that RealTerm is financing the smart city pilot program “because they want to know the full capability of this system. Something is happening here. RealTerm has an agenda and it’s not in our residents’ best interest.”
Trustee Barton Sobel disagreed with Rosenthal, stating, “They did describe that,” referring to RealTerm and the smart control system.
“I know they did,” echoed Mayor Bral. “For the record, I would like to disagree with Judy Rosenthal. It was discussed, and they did say this was a pilot study that was being done in Great Neck. It was disclosed, and I would like for our residents not to get the wrong information. The fearmongering must stop. Please.”
The mayor asked if any board members had comments to make. None did, and the board then moved to close the meeting.
RealTerm Energy consultants Mark Carter and Michael Miller were contacted about Rosenthal’s remarks, but as of press time had not responded.
To read the first part of this series, “LED Debate Rekindled,” visit www.greatneckrecord.com.