The Town of Gardiner stands to save a significant amount of money annually by buying back its cobrahead streetlights from the utility company, while replacing the bulbs with energy-efficient LED fixtures, under a conversion and maintenance plan currently being offered by the New York Power Authority (NYPA). That’s according to the Gardiner LED Streetlamp Task Force, which is recommending that the town opt for the NYPA package, as opposed to letting Central Hudson Gas & Electric (CHG&E) continue replacing the bulbs while charging high rates for leasing streetlights that are consistently poorly maintained.
“CHG&E has been overbilling our town for years, and their service and responsiveness should be better. This is the town’s chance to take control of this piece of infrastructure and improve maintenance through NYPA’s program,” says Kim Mayer, a member of the task force who is also active in Climate Smart Gardiner. At the July 13 Town Board meeting, Mayer gave a PowerPoint presentation walking the board through the process that the task force has undertaken and comparing the town’s options before making its recommendations.
Because CHG&E has already begun a gradual process of replacing the lamps it owns with LED bulbs, there is time pressure for the town to make a decision about whether or not to acquire them. Once all the bulbs have been upgraded, Gardiner will no longer qualify for the state-subsidized NYPA scheme, intended to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions sooner,” according to Mayer. In addition, a 180-day clock began ticking down on April 1, when CHG&E quoted an estimated price of $27,444 for the town’s purchase of the streetlights. The task force is hoping that the Town Board will vote to take the first steps toward contracting with NYPA and negotiating the final purchase price with CHG&E at its August meeting.
Under the NYPA arrangement, funded by a low-interest ten-year bond, the town would have to pay out $6,410 a year for the quoted acquisition price. But the task force calculates that it will also save $7,025 per year from what it now pays CHG&E in streetlight leases ($6,945) and maintenance costs, resulting in a net gain. And after the ten years, when the bond is paid off, the annual cost is estimated to drop to $1,339.
The NYPA plan includes annual maintenance, using a more technologically advanced, yet less expensive system than CHG&E has in place. The new system offers the capability for “control nodes withoentation. Response times for problems with the lamps are projected to be reduced dramatically, in a town where Mayer noted that many streetlights are inoperative, some of them for years after having been reported to the utility. Visual map-based information, notifications of outages and monitoring of energy usage would all be accessible digitally by authorized town employees using NYPA’s software.
Town Board members seemed favorably impressed with the task force’s findings, though they wanted more time to discuss them before taking action. “The big picture to me is we’re looking at better customer service,” councilman David Dukler responded after the presentation. “If that’s the only benefit, it’s worth it.”
Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic raised the complication that the town is divided into streetlighting districts, in which “the expenses are absorbed by the residents of the districts.” The downtown hamlet district has the greatest concentration of streetlights, but the lamps are largely ornamental rather than cobrahead fixtures. Mayer said that the “decoratives” could be incorporated into the NYPA plan, if the town decides to go that route. Councilwoman Laura Walls requested that the task force create an overlay to its streetlight map delineating in which districts the light poles are located.
With regard to the total costs to the town, Majestic recalled the existence of a reserve fund for expenses for Gardiner lighting districts, which she believed contained at least $22,000. If that pot of money were tapped, the size of the ten-year bond could be minimized.
Next steps proposed by the Gardiner LED Streetlamp Task Force include execution by the Town Board of an Authorization to Proceed with a contract with NYPA, which could happen as early as August, quickly followed by a request for a meeting with representatives of that agency to work out the details. In parallel, the town would initiate a formal request with CHG&E to purchase the streetlamps in the township. Mayer estimated that the process of replacing all the remaining lamps with LEDs would be concluded within three to four months of finalizing the contracts.