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Town to convert street lights to more efficient LED
Town to convert street lights to more efficient LED

By Tom Reilly

SUTTON – Town Administrator Jim Smith and Energy Manager Doreen DeFazio laid out the details of a plan to convert the town’s street lights to more efficient LED lighting at the most recent Board of Selectmen meeting.

DeFazio has been employed by the town for almost a year, splitting her 20 hours each week between Millbury and Sutton. Smith town administrator said that DeFazio had really picked up and run with the Green Communities issues, assisting Town Planner Jen Hager with updates to grants and working on new ones.

Smith said that this all came out of the Board’s goals and objectives meeting of last July when former selectman Mike Chizy raised the idea of purchasing the town’s street lights and potentially converting them to LEDs. Smith said that he was “well aware” that even purchasing the street lights alone would save the town money by taking them over from National Grid. He said that he needed to get more information about the LEDs and so he hired George Woodbury of Lightsmart Energy Consulting to assist in getting that information. Smith said that Woodbury is an expert in this field and that he has been doing this “for decades.” Smith added that Woodbury had assisted him on projects in Fall River and Lowell, places Smith worked before becoming Sutton’s town administrator.

Woodbury appeared before selectmen at a meeting in January of this year and presented his findings to the Board, winning its unanimous endorsement. Town meeting authorized $900,000 to proceed on this project, Smith said, adding that it all started at the goals meeting last July when Chizy came up with his idea. The town administrator said that he believed that the town would realized a quick payback on this project.

DeFazio went over the advantages of doing the project. The first was dedicated energy consumption, which she said would lead to additional revenue in the budget. Smith said that today the town spends $24,000 on street lights while the school system spends close to $3,000. DeFazio said that once the street lights are purchased and the LEDs are installed, the town will realize savings of 68 percent over what it is now paying. She also noted that this showed the town’s viable commitment to energy efficiency, something that was important for a green community.

DeFazio said that LED lighting would improve safety through enhanced visibility, noting that Sutton will be the first town in Central Mass. to install this lighting, although it is much more common in the eastern part of the state. LED lighting is brighter and shines directly on the road, she said, adding that the longer life of LEDs meant reduced maintenance costs. She said that LED lamps tended to last 20 years compared with the current high pressure sodium that lasts about six years. LEDs had less “light trespass”-- meaning that the light didn’t shine into places that it shouldn’t.

Smith said that the lighting level could be adjusted based on the needs of the community. He added that the kilowatt output of the lights could be increased or decreased as needed. DeFazio said that a street light in front of a school entrance would be brighter than one near someone’s house and that this could all be adjusted.

DeFazio was seeking just over $34,000 for the street lights and the town has notified the utility of its intent to purchase the lights. They now have 60 days to get back to the town, DeFazio said, adding that Woodbury told them that National Grid would take every one of those days. National Grid has until July 18 to reply to the town.

DeFazio said that the town has worked out an installation and maintenance approach with Paxton Municipal Light—something that required an inter-municipal agreement. She said that both Spencer and Leicester use Paxton Municipal Light as well. She said that financing was secured for this at town meeting and that $109,000 in capital funds and $8,000 in Chapter 90 money and a little over $16,000 from leftover Green Communities money.

DeFazio said that in the meantime they have audited all the street lights in the community and “really took a look at what we are using right now” in terms of consistency in wattage and other things.

The implementation would begin some time in October, she said, with the town ordering programmable lighting from the Fred Davis Corporation, an efficient lighting wholesaler located in Medway. DeFazio said that the town would be making a bulk purchase along with the City of Providence and the town of Westwood, cutting the cost even further.

Smith said that the payback period for the purchase of the street lights alone was five years. Smith said that the LEDs could also be paid off over the same five year period. He said that doing the purchases in this way would take the town’s lighting costs from $23,000 down to $8,000. Smith said this plan made sense to him.

Selectman John Hebert thought that this was going to be so popular that they were going to be flooded by people looking for new lights. He asked what kind of process Smith was going to use to establish new lights. Smith said that it would be up to the selectmen to develop a policy but “do we want to give them out because people just like them and they look pretty?” He said that there were many surrounding towns (Douglas was one example) that had shut off all of their lights. “That’s how they deal with their lighting problem,” Smith said. He said that adding lights was a budgetary issue. The goal was to cut the cost of the existing lighting, he said. He said that the goal of the town saving $20,000 in lighting was not to add another $20,000 worth of street lights.

Selectman Paul Maynard asked if people would call the town administrator’s office rather than National Grid to report when a light was out once this project was done. Smith said that town employees would have the number for Paxton Municipal Light, though he also hoped to publish the direct number on the town’s website and on cable access. He noted that with LEDs there would be a much smaller need for maintenance than there was today.

Selectman Jesse Limanek asked if there was a possibility of having someone in town such as a firefighter or DPW worked to change lights in an emergency. Smith said that he had thought about it but that it would require special training and equipment (including a lift truck) to do this work. He said that he preferred to stick with a contract through Paxton Municipal Light. With just over 200 lights, Smith said that he didn’t think that it made any sense to try and do the work themselves.

Selectman Michael Kenney asked if made sense to purchase a few extra lights at the lower cost for future needs and Smith said that it made sense to have a few in stock at the highway barn. Kenny asked what was stopping other towns from doing this and DeFazio said that for years this wasn’t allowed and now towns were “jumping on this.” She said this was a case where Sutton was out ahead of surrounding towns. Smith said that he thought that this would not be the case for long and that National Grid might need to start offering LEDs.

Town of Sutton  4 Uxbridge Rd., Sutton, MA 01590
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