FULTON, NY – The city of Fulton could save a quarter-million dollars each year with more energy efficient street lights, but a state roadblock makes it impossible for the local municipality to make the change.
“It’s wrong,” Fulton resident Dennis Merlino said. “We should be allowed to change a light bulb.”
During the public session of Tuesday’s (Oct. 21) regular council meeting Merlino requested city leaders make a proclamation to send the message to Albany.
“I know the mayor has been trying for a number of years to get LED lighting into the city of Fulton. The estimates that we’ve talked about – right now we’re spending $340,000 a year to pay for halogen street lights.”
Merlino said that changing to LED light bulbs will save the city an estimated $250,000 a year.
“NYSERDA is interested in getting us grants to pay for the initial costs of the lightbulbs,” he said. “It’s becoming a standard fixture for companies like Honeywell and GE. (They) understand that these are just every day, ordinary street lights. ”
LED stands for light-emitting diode, and according to Energy Star “when designed well, LED lighting can be more efficient, durable, versatile and longer lasting” than incandescent and even compact fluorescent lighting.
Merlino, who also serves on the city’s Planning Commission, said through his personal research in this matter he discovered that the Public Service Commission has a law that says municipalities may not make the change from halogen to LED light bulbs.
He noted that the PSC is scheduled to meet early next year on this matter. “Up until now, the PSC has been leaning toward companies like National Grid, rather than the interest of the cities,” Merlino said.
But last year Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Commissioner Audrey Zibelman to the PSC with an agenda to make New York state the “platinum standard for delivering reliable, affordable, resilient and clean energy services.”
“I think this is a perfect time to get a resolution from the city to the governor, the Legislature, and the Public Service Commission to say, ‘We want to replace our street light bulbs with standard, run-of-the-mill, plug-n-play LED lighting to save a quarter of a million dollars of our taxpayers’ money.”
Merlino noted that a standard home inspection audit to increase energy efficiency is usually accompanied by the advice to change to more energy efficient lighting to save money right off the bat.
On its website, National Grid offers the same advice to business owners.
“We should be allowed to do this,” Merlino said. “We’re asking you to change the laws to allow us to do this.”
Mayor Ron Woodward advised Merlino that he could prepare a resolution for councilors to vote at the next regular meeting.
“The majority of the street lights are owned by National Grid,” the mayor added. “They own the poles and the fixtures. Under the ‘street light tariff’ which was created by the Public Service Commission, LEDs are not allowed.”
“When you think of the political aspect of this, it’s all about money. Who gets it? The cities or the power companies?” Woodward said.
He added that National Grid does not generate power, they are a service provider. “They are in the transmission business. If we use 50,000 kilowatts the transmission costs on that is much more than it is on 10 kilowatts. So, they’re going to lose proportionally on their transmission costs as we save on the electrical costs.”
The mayor noted that because of the way transmission charges and meter charges are applied, switching to LED lights could be a catch-22 for the city.
“For the streetlights that are city owned, like the decorative lights downtown, currently they are on the street light tariff,” he explained.
Once the city has the capital to make the investment, the city could take those lights off the street light tariff and put LED bulbs in those fixtures because they are city-owned.
“But we would have to meter them,” Woodward said. “Enter the power company again, and there would be a meter charge. We would have to calculate the monthly meter charge in order to calculate any saving.”
He noted that about five years ago the city removed its more costly T-12 lights and replaced them with T-8 lighting. “We got a NYSERDA grant for all of the bulbs and the ballasts,” he said, “we did it with city forces and two months later the State of New York increased the energy tax on the T-8’s and it ate up every bit of our savings within a month.”
The mayor said the city is billed not only for the transmission of power to the streetlights, but also leases the poles, street light arms, and the receptacles that the bulbs are screwed into.
“It’s a lot more than just power,” he said.
Then the mayor outlined a ruling by the PSC a few years ago which made removing redundant lighting costs by just taking out the unneeded light poles prohibitive.
“We would have to pay to take (the lights out) about $1,000 a piece to save $250 a year,” the mayor said.
“They encourage you to save, but what we end up doing by saving them energy and let them boost their prices is that they get paid the same money for a whole lot less,” the mayor said, adding, “Them that got the gold make the rules.”
Councilor Larry Macner reminded Merlino, the mayor and his fellow councilors that the state put the city on the fiscally distressed list and encouraged the local municipality to combine services and consolidate where ever possible. “Here’s a way for us to recoup some of that loss,” Macner said.
According to its mission statement, the primary mission of the New York State Department of Public Service “is to ensure affordable, safe, secure, and reliable access to electric, gas, steam, telecommunications, and water services for New York State’s residential and business consumers, while protecting the natural environment. The Department also seeks to stimulate effective competitive markets that benefit New York consumers through strategic investments, as well as product and service innovations.”