Infrastructure

Syracuse, N.Y., Officials Ask Council to OK $38M Smart Streetlight Project

The project could save $3 million a year in energy costs. The infrastructure would also provide another platform to expand on existing smart city efforts.

by Chris Baker, Syracuse Media Group / August 16, 2018

(TNS) — SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse officials today unveiled details of an ambitious plan to buy 17,507 streetlights from National Grid and convert the city's entire network to a "smart" LED system.

The new LED lights would be cheaper and more efficient than the existing ones, and would let officials control the brightness in an area for public safety or during special events. An interconnected streetlight grid would also put Syracuse on the forefront of smart technology, paving the way for everything from snowfall monitoring to self-driving cars.

City hall is asking the common council to approve borrowing $38 million to fund the project. Officials presented details of the plan to councilors Wednesday morning.

Director of Administration Christine Elliott estimated the city will save $3 million a year on maintenance and energy costs, more than covering the debt payments.

The city currently pays National Grid about $5 million a year.

The city would save at least $1 million just on energy costs by using LEDs, and would reduce greenhouse emissions by 6,100 tons.

The project is one of the biggest financial undertakings in recent memory. The bonding is slightly less than the $40 million the city borrowed in 2009 to complete new water tanks at Westcott Reservoir. Elliott pointed out that this project, however, will save the city money in the short and long term.

Purchasing the lights won't just save money. It will give the city a chance to create a smart grid with access points throughout the city and a central control hub.

If approved, Syracuse would become one of the first fully connected smart cities in the country. It would be the largest smart city installation in the northeast.

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens told councilors this is a chance to make make Syracuse a technological leader.

"It's a big investment but it opens up an opportunity for this community to control our own destiny," Owens said, "We can be a leading smart city in New York."

The New York Power Authority will provide Syracuse $500,000 to equip about 50 light poles with smart hardware and software. That includes WiFi hubs, 4G/5G technology and sensors to detect things like snow and ice or traffic flow. NYPA will also manage the conversion process for the city.

Jesse Scott, manager of customer business development for NYPA, said with this technology, the light fixtures will act like an iPhone. They will be equipped with a node that can be fitted with all types of devices or apps. The city can customize what it wants to do with its new smart grid.

The possibilities, then, are limitless.

"Imagine if you're on a bus and the bus is connected to a node. And the node is connected to the traffic lights. The buses can get across town a lot faster," Scott said. "Or imagine being able to look at your phone to see when the bus is actually coming to the next stop."

Another possibility: Laying the groundwork for self-driving cars, Scott said. Or installing cameras and microphones for police use.

The system also allows for better maintenance on streetlights. Right now, light outages are primarily reported by residents. With the new system, when a light goes out, an automatic email will go to maintenance workers.

From a central hub, workers can raise and lower the brightness in a specific area. In San Jose, Scott said, lights downtown get brighter around the time bars close at night, helping people navigate the streets. After an hour or so, they dim again.

The lights can be turned up in an area if there's a nighttime festival or if police are searching for someone or securing a crime scene.

The New York Power Authority's involvement is part of a push from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to convert at least 500,000 streetlights to LEDs by 2025.

In the past, National Grid has been unwilling to sell the lights to the city or install LED lights, which are more energy efficient.

The stars aligned for the purchase to happen now, early in Mayor Ben Walsh's first term. The state recently overhauled rules setting prices for streetlights and interest rates are low. The state is also supporting the city with grants and logistical resources.

"Three administrations in a row have wanted to buy the streetlight system," Elliott, the director of administration, said. "But we are truly presented with a unique, once in a generation opportunity to do this."

Earlier this year, the state's Public Service Commission established legal procedures to allow a municipality to take ownership of its streetlights. That included a process for determining a fair sale price that the utility and the city could agree upon.

Syracuse will pay National Grid an average of about $850 per streetlight.

If approved, work is expected to begin next February and be completed by next August. The work will be done primarily by local contractors, in compliance with the city's standards for hiring women and minority businesses.

Officials presented the plan to the common council at a public works committee hearing Wednesday morning. The council could vote as early as Monday on funding for the project.

©2018 Syracuse Media Group, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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