2017-01-19 / News

Biddeford aims to replace all streetlights

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer


An LED streetlight on Main Street in Saco. Biddeford voted Tuesday, Jan. 17, after the Courier’s deadline, on whether to authorize the Biddeford city manager to enter into an agreement with Real Term Energy to replace about 2,250 light fixtures in the city with LED lights. According to Pat Fox, Saco’s Public Works Director, Saco has replaced the street lights it owns with LEDs, and the city is exploring in committee whether to replace its other street lights, which are owned by Central Maine Power. (Anthony Aloisio photo An LED streetlight on Main Street in Saco. Biddeford voted Tuesday, Jan. 17, after the Courier’s deadline, on whether to authorize the Biddeford city manager to enter into an agreement with Real Term Energy to replace about 2,250 light fixtures in the city with LED lights. According to Pat Fox, Saco’s Public Works Director, Saco has replaced the street lights it owns with LEDs, and the city is exploring in committee whether to replace its other street lights, which are owned by Central Maine Power. (Anthony Aloisio photo BIDDEFORD – Biddeford is taking steps to replace the city’s streetlights with newer LED technology.

Since September, the municipalities of Biddeford, South Portland, Falmouth and Rockland have completed a joint request for qualifications process, which has resulted in a draft agreement with RealTerm Energy US, a Marylandbased company, to manage the project. The project involves re-designing the lighting system – for variables such as traffic needs and effects on residential areas – selection of an LED manufacturer and installation of the equipment.

RealTerm was chosen by a selection committee made up of community members from the four participating municipalities, said Biddeford Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney. Phinney was the committee representative for Biddeford. He said that four or five companies submitted qualifications. The city council must vote to authorize the city manager to enter into an agreement before any work can be done, and the council was set to vote on that order at its Tuesday, Jan. 17 meeting, after the Courier’s deadline.

The primary benefits of using LED streetlights – LED stands for “light-emitting diode” – according to Phinney, are that they use less energy and are less expensive to maintain because they last longer.

One challenge for street light design is to avoid affecting the health of residents.

“You have to make sure that the installation is appropriate so you’re not flooding into homes,” Phinney said. “You have that issue with current technology. The reported health issues have more to do with metabolism and your circadian clock, your wake/sleep cycle.”

He added that streetlight design is a policy decision because factors like keeping light out of homes have to be balanced with how best to light streets for traffic.

Another challenge is light pollution. Phinney said light pollution has environmental effects, for example, on bird migration. He said the design of a fixture is important to avoid such pollution.

“The light pollution, when you think about it, is really a waste of energy, because all of that light that you’re seeing is directed in an area that is not being useful,” Phinney said.

Current streetlight technology requires more engineering to focus and direct light, he said, but LED technology has advantages in that regard.

“With the LEDs, you can actually design it so that the LED itself is pointed in the direction that you want it, and then you’ve got the refracting surfaces that help focus and contain that beam,” Phinney said.

Apart from this effort, the city has already replaced some of its streetlights with LEDs. The lights on lower Main Street – between the bridge and Alfred Street – are all LEDs as of now.

Cost savings for the city would come primarily from the fact that it would no longer have to pay Central Maine Power a rate to lease current lighting equipment. CMP owns about 2,250 fixtures in Biddeford. A change in state law in 2013 allows municipalities to obtain and install their own street lights rather than paying a rate to CMP, according to Phinney. In a memo to the council, Phinney wrote that the savings from discontinuing the lease would be $265,927 annually for Biddeford. The cost estimate for the replacement project is $1,274,000, the memo reads, and therefore a conservative estimate for a payback period is 4.8 years. According to the memo, “the municipal project conversion cost can be financed over time and paid through project savings.” City Manager Jim Bennett wrote that this means the plan would be do a “lease purchase,” which “would have the effect of lowering the amount we have traditionally had to budget.”

“In an effort to be conservative, the simple payback estimate has been limited to the lease expense savings,” the memo further reads, “although it should be noted the reduction in wattage for each fixture is conservatively estimated at greater than 60 percent.”

Phinney also said the four municipalities intended the process they were using for the project to be a template that could be used by other municipalities in Maine.

“It’s an individual community’s decision whether or not they want to convert their streetlights,” he said, “but we wanted to put a system in place that streamlined that.”

Saco is one city that may end up following Biddeford’s example.

“We’re kind of watching this first round of implementation to see if we want to change anything about our approach, or just follow the same pattern,” said Pat Fox, Saco’s public works director. He added that Saco has had some experience with replacing streetlights with LED technology.

“We’ve done LED conversion for street lights that we own,” Fox said. “We’ve experimented with solar street lights, more for parking lots than sidewalks. It’s certainly on our radar screen, we just haven’t tackled the larger project of the leased lights from CMP yet.”

As the Scarborough Leader reported in its Dec. 2 issue, Scarborough is similarly watching the progress of the project and considering whether to make the switch.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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