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Lighting Authority Spins off Multiple Benefits

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Sunday, May 25, 2014

INTRO: The U.S. Secretary of Energy came to Detroit last week to support LED lighting. His audience included Detroit middle school students studying science, technology, engineering and math. He found that the new effort to light up the city could produce a chain reaction that includes good jobs for women of color. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.

One third of Detroit’s street lights don’t work. That’s why the governor signed a law creating lighting authorities for cities. Detroit’s lighting authority started with $12 million. That money enabled it to sell bonds worth $60 million.

Thursday at a news conference, Mayor Mike Duggan said:

“With my partners Council President Brenda Jones and the City Council we put in a whole new lighting authority in January. And they said we are going to lead the country. We’re going to 100% LED lights.”

LED’s use less energy. That means they save money and spew fewer greenhouse gases from coal fired power plants.

Workers have installed 6,000 public lights in a few neighborhoods so far. The plan is 50,000 by next year.

Lights help prevent crime. Safer streets prevent blight and abandonment. This allows for money to stay in the neighborhood and some day attract more money.

Some of these public funds also go training the future workforce.

Whitehouse.gov says that women who work in science, technology, engineering and math earn 33% more than women in other fields.

But, according to a study last year by the National Science Foundation only 2% of scientists and engineers are black women.

The lighting authority is helping change that, at least in metro Detroit.

The authority has contracted with these companies: Cree, Inc of North Carolina, Leotek Electronics from California and Walker-Miller Energy Services, owned by an African-American woman in Detroit. The companies will be training middle and high school students in LED technology. They’ll learn the tiny aspects of lights as well as how they connect to the state-wide grid. Some will learn precision machining. Buses will pick students up to ensure they get to class.

The students are enrolled in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program. It’s called DAPCEP. Jason Lee is the director.

“I am fortunate to have three engineering degrees. Engineers are not created overnight. You don’t wake up in your senior year in high school and say I am going to take eight math classes, two semesters of chemistry, biology and physics. That seed has to be planted while you are young.”

Kaliyah Gunter is a 6th grader in the Detroit Public School system. She listened to Jason Lee and the politicians speak. I asked Kaliyah and her dad Edwin Gunter how she got interested in science. It started with birds.

“People are always saying that birds are color blind,” Kaliyah said. “So then I wanted to do an experiment to test what color bird house attracts the most birds.”

“What were the results?” I asked.

“The brown bird house attracted the most birds,” said Kaliyah, who lives with her parents and siblings near Linwood and the Lodge Freeway.

“We did five different color houses,” Edwin said. “We controlled the experiment by moving the houses so the birds that got used to a certain location… we just rotated the colors and did our measurements the exact time each day.”

But Kalayih’s father is not taking the credit.

“She has always loved science but lacked the motivation I guess. Now I see the motivation and the follow through. I see the actual thinking about it before she finishes it. This DAPCEP program is excellent for shaping and molding the young kids.”

Two White House officials came to promote the Public Lighting Authority’s plan. No federal money has been invested in the program yet, though observers think it will. They also met the students. The Secretary of Energy is Dr. Ernest Moniz. He wants energy-efficiency and a reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere….big concepts that start with small people.

“If we look at the energy transformation that we see happening in the world over the next 40 years the capital investments are going to average $1 trillion a year. That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of jobs. Those markets are going to be forming. That’s why it’s important that we get ahead of this train and people like you are going to have to help pull that train.”

The Public Lighting Authority is its own train. It’s literally taking kids to class, saving money, helping with safer streets, neighborhood revitalization, high paying jobs for women of color and ways to fight climate change. Public money is rarely leveraged and reinvested like this.

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One of the three contractors hired by the DLA, Carla Walker-Miller at far right.

One of the three contractors hired by the DLA, Carla Walker-Miller at far right.

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Kaliyah Gunter, 12, and father Edwin Gunter, just after news conference with political officials.

Kaliyah Gunter, 12, and father Edwin Gunter, just after news conference with political officials.

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DLA director Odis Jones, Dr. Moniz, Mayor Duggan and Jason Lee with DAPCEP students.

DLA director Odis Jones, Dr. Moniz, Mayor Duggan and Jason Lee with DAPCEP students.

U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, at news conference with Mayor Mike Duggan, at 2111 Woodward Ave, Detroit, May 22, 2014

U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, at news conference with Mayor Mike Duggan, at 2111 Woodward Ave, Detroit, May 22, 2014

Detroit Public Lighting Authority crew in the Russell Woods section of Detroit, April 2014.

Detroit Public Lighting Authority crew in the Russell Woods section of Detroit, April 2014.

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