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Albany, N.Y., Moves Forward on Smart LED Street Lights

A 30-year bond resolution was introduced in Albany, N.Y., Monday that covers the $9.4M needed to upgrade its streetlights to LEDs. The city is also considering "smart" nodes that would lay the groundwork for future tech.

(TNS) — The city of Albany, N.Y., approved the purchase of its streetlights from National Grid, but Common Council members must still weigh borrowing $29.3 million for the purchase and upgrade to more efficient lighting.

A 30-year bond resolution was introduced Monday that would allow the city to borrow the money to cover the cost of purchasing the lights at $9.4 million, upgrading them to energy-efficient LED lights as well as outfitting them with “smart nodes” — setting the stage for Wi-Fi, street cameras, and remote access to the lights.

But some are concerned about cost, wondering whether the plan — which includes outfitting every light in Albany with a smart node — is too elaborate and whether estimates for savings are too generous. The city also plans to hire an outside contractor to handle maintenance.

While nothing is finalized, the city budgeted $500,000 in savings next year from the switch — a figure that doesn’t sit well with Councilman Michael O’Brien.

“How long is it going to take to replace 10,300 lights?” O'Brien said. “It’s going to push well into 2020. You don’t get the 50 percent savings on your electricity until you have fully implemented the new LED system.”

Albany currently spends about $4.3 million annually on electricity for the streetlights as well as rental and maintenance fees from National Grid — which owns the lights. According to the 2019 proposed budget, 65 percent of the costs Albany incurs are for the maintenance and operation, while the remaining 35 percent would make up energy usage and delivery.

National Grid currently owns 10,313 lights in Albany. The city's purchase would allow for upgrades to cut costs, Albany Planning Commissioner Chris Spencer said. It would also let the city, Spencer said, to take over maintenance and eliminate various fees not connected to energy use.

For example, the city is locked into set rates for the concrete foundation, the pole, the bulb, and other items not related to energy consumption for decades, some as long as 70 years, Spencer said.

The city will hire company to handle maintenance of the lighting system, but Spencer said the costs should be a fraction of what the city pays to National Grid.

Maintenance and operation costs are expected to be low early on. Spencer said next year the city expects to spend roughly $325,000 to an outside contract. Estimated costs after 25 years at $1.8 million still are well below the roughly $3.1 million Albany pays to National Grid, he said.

While National Grid did offer to convert Albany’s lights to LED, it didn’t include additional technology like smart nodes and wouldn’t eliminate the costs not associated with energy consumption, he said.

Council members are also weighing concerns that smart nodes might not be needed on each light and that the project could be designed with excessive light levels, increasing the initial costs and the overall financing package.

Spencer said they’ll be able to control the intensity of the lights through dimmers and smart nodes on each light ensure best asset management.

“Why would you have an asset management tool and then say some neighborhoods will not have this tool?” he said. “It’s going to allow the city of Albany to be in control of its system, to really serve the residents the way we think is proper.”

O’Brien said he voted in favor of the purchase agreement with National Grid on Monday but wants to make sure the numbers budgeted are realistic.

“I did vote for it because the long-term concept is very good. I have no doubt that certainly after we’ve paid off the bond we’ll have probably $3 million a year in savings,” he said. “But the budgeting for this is too pie in the sky.”

City officials are confident they’ll begin seeing savings simply from taking ownership of the lights because they won’t be paying National Grid for maintenance and rental costs. Albany budget Director Mike Wheeler stressed the $500,000 savings is a “conservative estimate.”

“The original timeline was by the end of 2019, but it looks like the savings now is going to start being realized around March or April,” he said. “Once ownership changes from National Grid to us, we’ll start seeing that savings on maintenance and rentals.”

The New York Power Authority will be doing the work to upgrade lighting and other technology, Wheeler said.

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

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