A proposed ban on privately owned gas lamps by January 1962, part of an agreement worked out by House-Senate conferees on the new federal energy bill, has special relevance for Columbia residents.
The 10-year-old "new town" in Howard County has no publicly financed street lighting, and front yard gas lamps are the only source of light on many residential streets.
Electric street lights on major roads and in the downtown area are installed and maintained by the town developer, Howard Research and Development Corp. But cul-de-sacs are lighted only by post lamps, many of which are gas, in front of individual homes.
Although the energy bill does not specifically refer to communities such as Columbia, a clause allowing the retention of gas lamps for health and safety reasons would indicate that large sections of Columbia will not have to choose between going dark or undertaking wholesale replacement of existing lamps.
A staff spokesman for the conferees noted that the Department of Energy will have "a great deal of discretion" in allowing exemptions to the ban.
When plans for Columbia were unveiled in the mid-1960s, officials of the then largely rural county refused to bear the costs of street lighting for the 14,000-acre town.
Elsewhere in the county, residential roads also are without public street lighting. The county will install street lights at intersection "on request" if the budget allows, said to James Kienker, chief of the county's traffic engineering division.
Under an informal compromise reached with the county, Howard Research agreed to install street lights on major Columbia roads, with the county eventually to assume maintenance costs.
At the same time, the development company decided to require individual builders in Columbia to install post lamps in front of each house, thus providing lighting on the cul-de-sacs paid for by homeowners instead of the developer or the county.
Howard County has not yet assumed maintenance costs, now running at $100,000 a year for utility bills and repairs for Columbia's electric street lights, said Michael D. Spear, executive vice president and general manager of Howard Research.
"We anticipate at some point in the near future we'll need to reach an agreement on that," Spear said. "Some relationships will need to be worked out . . .after all, we're not always going to be here." Development of Columbia should be completed by the early 1990s.
Although neither the developer nor the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. can readily pinpoint the number of gas lamps in Columbia, Spear estimated that "less than half" of the town streets depend on gas lamps.
Until the summer of 1974, when BG&E declared a morotorium on all new gas hookups, most post lamps in Columbia were gas, according to Mildred Dunham, Howard Research's assistant vice president for community affairs. Dunham said latest figures show there are 5,834 single-family homes and 3,346 town houses in Columbia.
On virtually every gas-lighted street in Columbia, at least some and, in a few instances, all homeowners have had their gas lamps turned off, either for economy or energy conservation.
According to Charles J. Franklin, public relations representative for Baltimore Gas & Electric, a gas lamp uses about 15 units of gas a month at an average cost of 341/3 cents per unit. In addition to gas costs, customers pay a flat fee of $2.71 a month for the lamps.
A "statiscally average customer" (including houses and apartments using gas for heat and some or all appliances) uses about 92 units a month, he added.
An electrical post lamp that comes on auomatically at dusk and turns off at dawn uses about 38 units of electricity a month at an average cost of 41/2 cents a unit, Franklin said. He said customers whose homes are not heated by electricity use an average of 580 units a month.
Estimates from several Columbia area electricians on the cost of changing gas lamps to electric range from about $100 to $200 or more, depending on a lamp's distance from the house.