BENEFITING: WYOMING STAR GAZING
Humans have been looking up at the night sky and wondering about what lies out there for all of recorded history. However, the privilege of enjoying really dark skies has been vanishing all across the county. Today, less than 75% of Americans have seen the arms of the Milky Way Galaxy. The citizens of Jackson will fall into that category if we do not act soon. Future generations of citizens of Jackson should have the same privilege of enjoying really dark skies that its citizens have enjoyed since Jackson was first settled. This project will help resuscitate and sustain our dark night skies for generations to come.
One of the essential qualities of Jackson and of the entire Teton region is our dark night skies. We are rapidly losing that piece of who we are. Tourists come from all over the world to see our valley and many of them come to see the dark night sky. Numerous other amenity-oriented communities have already taken steps to restore and sustain their dark night skies with large economic payoffs. Jackson would be joining other Intermountain West communities such as Breckenridge, Flagstaff, Telluride, Park City, and Whitefish who have already seen the intrinsic and economic value in sustaining this commonly overlooked natural resource.
Jackson is a small town, but its light pollution has become a big problem. As of 2015, light pollution in Jackson is nearly the same as Flagstaff Arizona--population 65,000. Even though dark skies exist a few miles away from downtown Jackson, within town the arms of the Milky Way Galaxy are barely visible because of light pollution. There are multiple human health risks associated with excess artificial light at night including, but not limited to: increased cancer risk, depression, type 2 diabetes, and insomnia. Poorly shielded street lights and commercial lights present increased risks to commuters and wildlife on the roadside because of decreased visibility from glare, in addition to providing criminals a place to hide. Migrating birds, insects, bats, other mammals, and plants are all adversely impacted by unshielded lights and over powered lights. Moreover, there are significant economic losses due to poorly designed exterior lighting.
Although some organizations and constituents in Jackson are already concerned about Jackson’s light pollution, on their own none of them have the resources to launch an effective campaign to reduce light pollution. Wyoming Stargazing is set to spearhead that campaign in collaboration with Energy Conservation Works (ECW). ECW programs support the transition towards high efficiency lighting throughout the community and this alignment allows for logical partnership when replacing outdoor lighting. Through the use of light pollution and energy reduction case studies with local businesses we will begin to shed light on our light pollution problem and to reduce it along the way.
Wyoming Stargazing is partnering with ECW to begin implementing light pollution and energy reduction projects that will be profiled through case studies with local business. This collaborative project is the first of its kind in Jackson. Never before have two organizations come together to pursue a single project that will result in: reduced energy consumption, improved safety for wildlife on our roadways, saved money, bolstered public health, increased economic competitiveness, and the restoration of a threatened natural resource. This project is a win-win for our entire community.
In addition to the case studies we also intend to provide educational pamphlets that contain information on light pollution, sources of dark sky compliant outdoor lighting, and cost/energy saving information to the business we work with and to the rest of the Jackson Hole Community. Distributing those educational pamphlets will allow us to help our community understand the facts about light pollution and to alleviate misconceptions that currently exists surrounding the issue, such as the connection between well-shielded outdoor lighting and safety.
The case studies that lie at the heart of this project will include working with local businesses and public facilities. They will result in measurable reductions in light pollution and energy consumption, which will provide excellent examples for other facilities to follow. Energy Conservation Works will identify candidate projects with strong economic benefit from an outdoor lighting retrofit and which produce the greatest amount of light pollution—these are often highly correlated quantities. Once those businesses have been identified, Energy Conservation Works and Wyoming Stargazing will collaborate with the business to help them identify the best outdoor lighting fixtures, shades, and lights to reduce their energy usage and light pollution. Wyoming Stargazing will measure the amount of light pollution at those business locations using Sky Quality Meters (SQMs) before and after the retrofits. We will also make measurements using the SQMs are various locations around Jackson Hole.
The expense of lighting retrofits will be drastically reduced through utility incentives from Lower Valley Energy (LVE) via Energy Conservation Works. In the case of public projects partial funding will be provided through ECW’s 2010 SPET Fund for Energy Improvements as well as from Teton County’s Energy Mitigation Fund. The additional cost of the project will be covered by the business--with a typical return on investment of less than 5 years. Each candidate project will be presented with a detailed economic analysis of the project’s merits. Further candidate businesses will be presented the opportunity to commit to purchasing 100% renewable, green power from LVE and as a result having most, if not all, project costs covered. We estimate that each case study will take approximately five months to complete from an initial light pollution measurement prior to the lighting retrofit to a follow-up measurement post retrofit. The total number of case studies we conduct will depend on the number of businesses that are identified who agree to collaborate with us. However, we plan on conducting at least four case studies over the next year.
Wyoming Stargazing will collect quantitative data to measure and evaluate our project’s success. We will use Sky Quality Meter (SQM) data to establish baseline figures for the current light pollution at several locations within Jackson and throughout Jackson Hole. In particular, we will collect measurements at or near the case study locations before and after the retrofits occurs. We will also review, to the extent possible, recent traffic accidents involving vehicles and wildlife that may have been caused or influenced by glare from improperly shielded lighting. We will review those figures again when there are appreciable changes in the amount of light pollution in specific locations.
We anticipate that there will be a direct and immediate reduction of light pollution and an immediate and significant energy savings at all the businesses with whom we conduct case studies. The economic benefits of those savings will be felt by those business, whereas the effects of the reduction in light pollution will be felt by the entire Jackson Hole community. We also anticipate that as we begin publicizing information about the success of the case studies other business will become eager to participate. Our hope is that these projects will provide motivation for the Town of Jackson, Teton County, and GTNP to reduce light pollution from public light fixtures throughout Jackson Hole. The extent to which these anticipated results occur will be other measures of our success. Receiving positive feedback on the educational pamphlets will be yet another measure of our project’s success.
Wyoming Stargazing has already begun to receive a positive response from out initial efforts to promote light pollution reduction in Jackson. The Town Council and County Commissioners have asked us to work with Town and County Planners to draft a new exterior lighting standard that will protect Jackson's dark skies. This is clear evidence that Wyoming Stargazing is already having a positive impact on light pollution awareness in Jackson. Now is the ideal time to increase light pollution education and awareness through demonstrable efforts that will reduce light pollution. We can help the entire community see that restoring and sustaining our dark skies is the easy, safe, healthy, ecological, and economically sustainable best choice. Please help us Save Jackson Hole's Night skies!