FutureStructure

Town's Smart Street Lights to Pay for Themselves in 6 Years

The town of Clifton Park, N.Y., is installing LED lights and taking the opportunity to install "smart" technology along with them. It'll add costs, but officials still expect the project to pay for itself quickly.

by Wendy Liberatore, Times Union / November 8, 2018
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(TNS) — The town will update its 610 streetlights with long-lasting LED bulbs and smart city technologies with the hopes of saving $4.5 million over 20 years.

But to get to that saving, the town will have to spend $1.13 million to purchase the streetlights from National Grid and New York State Electric and Gas, and state-of-the-art technology and installation from Siemans.

"We are incorporating the equipment necessary to ensure Clifton Park remains on the forefront of technological advancement," Supervisor Phil Barrett said of the plan that was unanimously approved by the town board on Monday.

The updated street lights, with bulbs that will last 10 years, will also be equipped with GIS mapping, which is expected to allow for more efficient maintenance of the lights and the ability to dim or brighten specific lights. The lights will also include smart city controls that will, in the future, help the town to monitor air quality, traffic and noise, as well as enhance safety for pedestrian and cyclists.

"Although this option increases the cost of the project, it is far less expensive to install the equipment now than it would be in the future as part of a separate initiative," Barrett said.

Once the technology is installed, Siemans, a global energy company, will train town workers to maintain the lights.

Barrett said the town will recoup its initial cost in six years. Beyond that, Barrett said, the town expects to save 60 to 65 percent of its energy costs. The change will also eliminate the town's facility cost, which it now pays to the electric companies.

"The acquisition of the streetlight from the utility companies will incur substantial savings on an annual basis as facility charges, currently paid by all municipalities, will be eliminated," Barrett said.

The poles on which the lights hang will remain in the hands of the utility companies. The town will only own the lights and the arm that illuminates the streets and most intersections.

Barrett said Clifton Park is one of the first towns in the region to take advantage of the idea that has been encouraged by the state's Public Service Commission. In 2015, the state estimated that 1.4 million municipal streetlights could be part of the change to LED technology. The savings, PSC officials said, would create significant savings and lead to an overall reduction in emissions.

Some of the first towns to purchase their streetlights and replace bulbs with LED lighting were West Seneca in Erie County, Horseheads in Chemung County and Clarkstown in Rockland County.

In September, Albany announced it is considering purchasing its street lights, but it would have to borrow $29.3 million to do it. On Monday, Schenectady announced it is working with National Grid to retrofit 18 streetlights with LED bulbs. National Grid, a city press release noted, is expected to replace 4,200 city streetlights with LED bulbs and install smart city technology there.

Barrett said that Clifton Park looked at that option too, allowing National Grid to continue to own the lights and do its own updating. But a cost-analysis for the town showed that the savings were more substantial if Clifton Park purchased the lights, he said.

"We have a lot fewer lights than Schenectady," Barrett said. "It was not a good fit for us."

Barrett said Siemens has already offered guidance to several municipalities in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. A 2016 article in the Times Union revealed the company was the subject of an investigation by the state attorney general's office for inflating energy savings figures at the Saratoga County co-generation plant. The plant was supposed to be saving $130,000 a year on energy at the county-run nursing homes. But it actually cost the county $180,000 a year. The plant has since been decommissioned.

Barrett said is not concerned about Siemans' history.

"I do not foresee any risk in attaining significant savings for Clifton Park," Barrett said. "We will realize a large drop in energy costs and save money through the elimination of facility charges from the utilities. The savings are powerful, which is why more municipalities are now working toward completing the same process."

He is looking forward to the next step, which is approval from PSC.

"We hope that since we are on the forefront that there is not a long line of proposals at PSC," Barrett said. "Hopefully, we will get a quicker review time in the fact that we are early."

©2018 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.