Monday, June 12, 2017

Rappahannock Celebrates and Defends Dark Skies

The Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP) recently hosted a well attended public presentation at the Castleton Festival by NASA Solar System Ambassador Greg Redfearn. RLEP has been at the forefront of local efforts around Virginia to protect relative dark skies as the community asset and defining aspect of country living that they are.  Read more about Mr. Redfearn's visit here

Virginia Student Conducts Firefly Research at State Arboretum

I was delighted to come across this article in Science News for Students about Warrenton high school student Savannah Long who was inspired by a UVA biology graduate student conducting research into fireflies and light pollution.  For her science fair project, Ms. Long designed and set up her own experiments at UVA's Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce and she took her study to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, attended by 1800 students from 75 countries.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Why Va. IDA Opposed the LED Outdoor Lighting Legislation (it's not because we're anti-energy efficiency!)

(On February 1st, a subcommittee of the House of Delegates committee on Appropriations recommended with an unrecorded 'voice vote' to lay on the table HB 1988 which would have required all state government entities to use LED lighting. This bill contained some  language addressing light pollution and shielding suggested by Va. IDA a year ago as well as protections for historic districts and properties, but did not adequately provide for best practices or other necessary exemptions. It did not include a CCT limit, encouragement of use of adaptive control systems, or exemptions for existing and future Dark Sky Places, astronomical observatories, or protected natural areas.)

Let's say I tell you that I'm converting my home to all energy efficient LED lighting so I can save energy and money and reduce my carbon footprint.  You come to visit one evening and you're surprised to find my home blazing with light--every lamp and fixture in every room on though unoccupied, porch and garage lights left on all night long. Many of the lights are much brighter than they need to be for their purpose--reading or dining or seeing your way up the stairs.  Worse yet, some are so intensely blue-white they hurt your eyes, especially the outdoor fixtures with exposed diode arrays. And since LEDs are so 'efficient', I've added more fixtures.

Would you applaud my energy efficiency?

This is exactly what has been happening with many LED installations , including streetlight conversions.   LED's efficiency too often becomes an excuse to use even more of it, lighting what doesn't need to be lit more of the time at higher levels. LED's greater perceived brightness and improved visibility means we can and should use lower illumination levels, but decision makers (DOTs particularly) keep applying the same on-the-ground target illumination standard rather than shifting downward within the recommended range.  And  LED installations too rarely have included the technology's greatest advance and advantage:  adaptive control, the sophisticated means to tailor lighting to locations, times, and conditions with dimming and brightening, part-night lighting, and maintenance monitoring with the capacity to dramatically cut consumption, costs, and light pollution. 

HB 1988 did not include any language addressing adjustment in illumination levels or provision of adaptive control capacity.

The most familiar pitfall of LED lighting is blue-rich light: higher Color Correlated Temperature--measured in Kelvin--intensifies glare (harming vision and reducing visibility),  exacerbates melatonin suppression, amplifies sky glow, and disrupts ecosystems with increased impacts to wildlife.  IDA has been warning about blue-rich light since 2010 and over three years ago revised its Fixture Seal of Approval program to include a 3,000K or below limit.  Last year the American Medical Association affirmed a 3,000K limit for human health and safety.

 IDA members and other advocates are working in their communities to establish a 3,000K standard and are specifically collaborating with electric coops to eliminate the use of 4,000K and 5,000K fixtures.  In addition to DSP-certified Staunton River State Park, we have efforts underway at about six locations, including two to three state parks, to pursue Dark Sky Place designations.  High CCT lighting would be at odds with those efforts.

HB 1988 did not include a Color Correlated Temperature limit or consideration of dark sky conservation efforts.

So that's why Virginia IDA opposed passage of HB 1988 LED Outdoor Lighting.  We are not opposed to LED lighting and certainly support energy efficiency--real energy efficiency does not risk our night skies or the aesthetics of our communities and is consistent with quality outdoor lighting.

For more information on wise and responsible approaches to LED lighting, go to  IDA's blog posts and Virginia's own Smart Outdoor Lighting Alliance.

For an example of adaptive control and warm CCT in action, check out this Thames-side park that serves the public while protecting a crucial wildlife habitat corridor.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Virginia high school student wins IDA Rising Star Award!

Before she had even begun her sophomore year of high school, Lora Callahan was shepherding James River State Park toward application for Dark Sky Park certification through collaboration with park staff, hands-on work, education, and advocacy. In November IDA awarded Lora with one of two Rising Star awards (you can read about all award winners here.)

IDA published the follow summary of why Lora is a Rising Star: 

We proudly honor Lora Callahan, a high school student from Lynchburg, VA, who has become the kind of dark skies champion and advocate to which we all aspire.  An outdoor enthusiast and veteran Girl Scout who intends to visit all of Virginia’s 37 state parks, Lora teamed up with the James River State Park volunteer coordinator to pursue an IDA Dark Sky Park certification for the Park.  Since then she has volunteered more than 100 hours toward the effort, far exceeding the 80-hour requirement of the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award.  Lora and friends hand-built and installed 35 wooden shields for the exterior lights in the Park’s cabin area, conducted extensive night sky readings that were submitted to IDA, conducted a lighting inventory of the entire park and its facilities, changed bulbs to lower intensities, installed and set timers, replaced some fixtures with FSA approved designs, and disconnecting unnecessary lights including antiquated ‘dusk to dawn’ post lights within view of the riverside campground.  This past June Lora spent a weekend assisting with dark sky-focused interpretive programs and she continues to keep up with outreach to surrounding communities and regional astronomy clubs to build support and attract more partners for ongoing program development.  Not only have Lora’s ongoing efforts made James River State Park an ideal place to view the night sky and experience the natural night, she has brought valuable public attention to the cause of night sky conservation and responsible lighting practices while continuing to elevate dark skies as a priority for the Virginia State Parks.  We are fortunate to have Lora Callahan on the side of dark skies in Virginia and IDA can only benefit from her leadership and its full potential.

Monday, November 28, 2016

More Support for Night Sky Conservation in SW Virginia

Wise County dark sky defenders are leading the latest effort to conserve Virginia's rural night skies. The Roanoke Times recently ran this editorial: A Dark Sky Park for the Coalfields.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

See the Stars, Encounter the Night at James River State Park

My family and I recently went on a weekend camping trip in James River State Park, less than a two hour scenic drive west of Richmond in Buckingham County.  Sizing up my surroundings always includes a keen eye for any visible lighting and I quickly noted a couple aging dusk-to-dawn "yard lights" behind our riverside campground, at the base of the foothills.  Usually this would be cause for consternation and anxiousness, but I had a hunch those lights would not come on as darkness fell and I was right.  Why? They'd been decommissioned as part of JRSP's plans to become Virginia's second IDA-certified Dark Sky Park.

What is most delightfully notable about JRSP's lighting is the absence of it. No mast lights at all. DIY-shielded cabin lights. Full cut off wallpacks elsewhere. Motion-sensor lighting on the LEED Gold-certified Visitor's Center. And not a glaring, blue-white, high-Color Correlated Color Temperature fixture to be found. Bliss!  Our second evening we headed to the hilltop Visitor Center for an astronomy program compliments of Crewe Astronomy Club. The skies did not cooperate much, but the moon was waxing and we got the kind of close-up view of its features that will give you goosebumps plus some peekaboo appearances from planets and constellations as the clouds broke up.

We have two amazing people to thank for natural night reigning over James River State Park and opportunities to explore the celestial realm with the help of serious telescopes and their enthusiastic owners:  park volunteer coordinator Jennifer Jones and high school student and Girl Scout extraordinaire Lora Callahan.  Read more about them and their work toward Dark Sky Park certification in this recent Roanoke Times Editorial.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Winchester and Rappahannock events in April

Thursday, April 7th, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Dark Sky Panel Discussion at the Winchester Book Gallery
Winchester, VA

Friday, April 22nd, 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night and Laura Greenleaf, Va. chapter IDA at The Theatre in Little Washington, sponsored by Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection