Kennebunk citizens may not be aware that the town has been on a program to convert its existing street lights – mostly high pressure sodium – but also a few mercury vapor and incandescent ones – to light emitting diode (LED) lights to save the town’s carbon footprint and electricity cost by 40 to 60 percent.

Courtesy photo

In 2019, citizens voted $400,000 for the conversion and in 2021 the lighting consultant RealTerm Energy was hired to assist the town and Kennebunk Light and Power District to review its existing lighting, street light policies, select new LED fixtures that meet the policies and fashion a conversion program. Towns in Maine traditionally choose and purchase their street lights and then CMP or other local utility puts them up and maintain with a fee for service.

One vital step as an input to this program was to enable citizens to provide the town with our preferred replacement light fixtures on forms to be provided on the town website.

Speaking for myself personally as a Kennebunk citizen (not as a member of the Street Light Sub-committee of which I am a member)  I have recently learned that town and KLPD staff have apparently decided that this step is not necessary. Apparently, in their view, the LED lights the power district has been putting up around town, since before the conversion process began, meet the town’s street light policies, even though you may have noticed they are considerably brighter and spray illumination far wider than the replaced high pressure sodium lights.

Light emitting diode technology is new and like any new technology there is a period when it is being sorted out as to its beneficial uses and those harmful ones. The LED lights were invented to save carbon footprint, electricity and its cost – not to be over-bright and cause light pollution, glare and light trespass. The beneficial uses of LED street lighting (and control of the harmful ones such as glare and pollution) are summarized by one of the leading organizations on good outdoor lighting, the International Dark-Sky Association in its Five Principles of Responsible Outdoor Lighting.

They are: (1.) all lights should have a clear purpose; (2.) Light should be directed only to where needed; (3.) Light should be no brighter than necessary; (4.) Light should be used only when it is useful; (5.) Use warmer color lights where possible.


For full text, visit and select: “Lighting” and “Five Principles of Responsible Outdoor Lighting.”

These issues for the state overall were explored by a Maine Public Television film last month in a presentation called “Defending the Dark – Maine’s unique dark sky.” It may be able to be streamed from Maine Public – I urge you to try to do so. It describes the negative public health effects of over-bright constant nighttime artificial light; its problems with public safety to motorists and pedestrians from glare; and its spiritual degradation by removing the night sky from us earthbound dwellers to which humans (and all other living flora and fauna) have co-evolved over millions of years.

Considerations. We first need to be clear on the beneficial purposes of streetlights. They were invented to provide nighttime lighting of sidewalks, crosswalks and streets for safer pedestrian and bicyclist use, plain and simple. Streetlights were not invented for public safety for motorists.

In Maine as in most states, motorist public safety is required by vehicle headlights and by street signage, road striping and traffic signals. And streetlights have evolved to protect private roadside property owners their privacy so these landowners can exercise their right to control the lighting on their own properties. Street lights in the more rural areas may be less problematic to property owners whose houses are set far back from the road, but considerably more so for village dwellers whose houses are close to the street.

Control of where street light illumination goes is accomplished by full cut-off fixtures that direct it downward onto the sidewalk and street to where it is intended and by the easy installation of additional shielding where necessary. And finally, design of street lights has evolved to preserve the night sky and nighttime beauty that is as fully crucial to human wellbeing as preserving the beauty of the daytime environment.

So what does this mean for Kennebunk’s LED conversion program? Kennebunk as both a residential and welcoming tourist town can ill afford to have poor lighting that compromises the beauty of the nighttime when tourists and residents alike want to stroll the streets in comfort, visit restaurants and shops, see the night sky, the ocean and the streetscape all while feeling comfortable and safe. And this supports the town’s quality-of-life and tourist economy. Poor street lights do not.

It is hoped that as many citizens as possible stop by and view the new KLPD lights on Fletcher Street around the high school and elsewhere. And then, email or otherwise contact town staff your views at Town staff working on the conversion include Chris Osterrieder, and Karen Winton, Email Kennebunk Light and Power at or Todd Shea at

This will help the town staff, KLPD and the select board make the best decision for the town. After all, it is us, the Kennebunk citizens, our children and theirs who will be living with these decisions every night for the next 30 years or more. Should we not have some input?

Anthony Dater is chair of the Street Light Sub-Committee, Kennebunk Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Committee.

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