Massachusetts Town Buys 1,682 Streetlights for $1 Each, Paves Way for LED Conversion

The light purchase caps a two-year effort, which came to a head last year when a number of Andover residents starting asking why the lights on their streets had been turned off.

by Bill Kirk, Andover Townsman, Mass. / July 17, 2015
Los Angeles is deploying a network of smart streetlights. Shutterstock

(TNS) -- Andover, Mass., is moving ahead with plans to purchase 1,682 streetlights from National Grid with an eye toward maintaining them and eventually replacing inefficient bulbs with energy-saving lights.

Janet Nicosia, manager of energy and utilities for the town, told the Board of Selectmen late last month that she had an agreement with the power company to buy the lights for $1.

She said National Grid had originally planned on charging $165,000. But after the town found out that other communities had gotten their lights for $1, she negotiated the lower price, she told selectmen at their June 29 meeting.

Selectmen approved the streetlights purchase on a 4-0 vote, with Chairwoman Mary O'Donoghue, Dan Kowalski, Paul Salafia and Alex Vispoli all endorsing it. Selectman Bob Landry was not present at the meeting.

Municipal Services Director Chris Cronin said the purchase of the lights caps a two-year effort.

"This is very good news," he said. "We've been working on this for a couple years now."

Dark streets

The streetlight issue came to a head last year when a number of residents starting asking why the lights on their streets had been turned off. Recently retired Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski explained that hundreds of lights had been shut off as a cost-saving measure in 2009. Environmentalists lauded the turn-off because it reduced light pollution, making it easier to see the night sky.

Each year, the town saved about $100,000 in electricity fees, but was paying out $20,000 a year to lease the darkened lights from National Grid. Many communities over the past decade have purchased streetlights from their local utility companies, something made possible due to the deregulation of the power industry.

Andover, however, never exercised that right — until now.

Under the plan, the town will be able to save money and turn all the streetlights on, according to town officials.

Purchasing the fixtures

Nicosia recommended selectmen purchase the fixtures and not the poles. The purchase includes lights that have been turned off, she said.

She also said the town should not buy lights that are fed via underground conduits such as those on North Main Street. There are, however, 12 lights on free-standing poles on the street. The rest are on poles that already carry other utilities. She said the town is reviewing the cost of purchasing the lights on poles.

"Most of them, we only have to buy the fixtures," she said.

The town is currently doing an inventory of all the fixtures in town, including the types of bulbs they have, their location and other data.

The savings, in addition to the $1 cost to purchase the lights, comes in maintenance plans. Nicosia said the town now pays National Grid about $100,000 a year to maintain the streetlights. Hiring a maintenance company at about $28,000 a year would save about $72,000 annually, she said.

The estimated cost of repairs comes in at about $17,000, meaning the savings per year in maintenance fees is about $55,000.

She noted that in Lowell, a maintenance company comes in once a week, gets a work order and goes around town to replace burned-out bulbs. Large repairs to fix damage caused by downed trees or a car accident would not be included in the maintenance contract, but would have to be paid for through the town's insurance.

LED conversion

The other, bigger savings is the conversion to LED lights, or light-emitting diodes. These are highly efficient bulbs that provide lower energy consumption and much longer lifespan than traditional bulbs.

It would take a Town Meeting vote, but hiring an installer to convert all the lights in town to LEDs would likely run from $300,000 to $500,000. Nicosia said the costs vary so much because there are many options to choose from. Some communities have kept costs down by limiting options.

Cronin said that once chosen, the installer could come in and put lots of different lights on one street. People could then drive to that street and look at the different lights and decide which ones the town should buy.

With a savings of about $70,000 in electricity costs, the payback to install the LEDs would be about seven years, she said.

Another savings is that once LEDs are installed, the town no longer needs a maintenance contract because the lights so rarely need to be replaced. Nicosia noted that Lowell won't need its maintenance company once the conversion to LEDs occurs because they "have a 20-year lifespan."

She added that utility incentives, which are typical in these kinds of conversions, might "make all these numbers even better."

Nicosia said that with Town Meeting approval next year, the project could get under way as early as November 2016.

©2015 the Andover Townsman (Andover, Mass.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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