Baldwin not alone in efforts to reduce street-lighting costs
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Those bright, yellow, hazy lights, meant to brighten the road for passing vehicles and foot traffic, have become a financial burden for many suburban towns.
Several municipalities are seeking ways to reduce the costs of lighting the streets, which in some cases totals nearly $250,000 a year in a suburban community.
“This is a significant issue for municipalities across the region,” said Jay Rickabaugh, project manager of the Congress of Neighboring Communities, an organization run by the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs that promotes cooperation and collaboration between Pittsburgh and its 37 neighboring towns.
“Just about every municipality spends a substantial amount of money on their streetlights.”
To save money, Baldwin Borough leaders last year reduced the number of lamps in the town, eliminating nearly 30 percent of the roughly 5.4-square-mile municipality's lights. In a town of about 8,900 households, they had more than 1,300 streetlights.
However, some residents continue asking borough officials to consider other options.
“A lot of people walk (my street) constantly. Was that taken into consideration?” said Baldwin resident David Brogan, who asked council members last month to look into installing LED lights, instead of eliminating the streetlights. “From my standpoint, the street is dark.”
Communities across Allegheny County are eying the financial and energy savings that could come from swapping the sodium vapor lights that line their towns with more energy-friendly units, such as light-emitting diode lamps.
Yet, many towns don't yet have this option.
Duquesne Light, which owns the street lamps in most suburban towns in the region, is still one to two years away from putting LED lights on the streets, spokesman Brian Knavish said. Officials have not decided yet if they will charge towns to replace streetlights with LED lighting, when that option is made available, he said.
“While these will use less electricity, the cost of the equipment is higher than traditional streetlights,” Knavish said.
There also is a process that must be followed and the electric company currently is talking to vendors and determining the necessary steps that need to be taken to make these lights available, Knavish said.
Community leaders in Duquesne Light's service area are asking the company to make energy efficient streetlights readily available, Rickabaugh said.
CONNECT's executive committee created a draft letter — at the request of local municipal leaders — that each contributing municipality could send to Duquesne Light asking for a speedier process.
Pennsylvania Act 129 of 2008 requires the state's seven largest electric distribution companies to develop energy efficiency and conservation plans. The companies also are required to reduce the amount of electricity consumed by their customers. The letter, sent by as many as 14 towns to Duquesne Light officials, asks the electric company to work with the Public Utilities Commission to ensure the necessary changes are made to tariffs, or rate structures, so that potential energy-efficiency lighting could produce a cost savings for the towns.
Baldwin Borough sent Duquesne Light officials a copy of the CONNECT-drafted letter on Jan. 22, borough Manager John Barrett told council members Tuesday. Baldwin has yet to get a response.
Swissvale leaders also are looking for ways to save money on lighting. If a switch to LED lamps offers a cost savings then officials likely would support a switch in the town, Councilman Darrell Rapp said.
The 1.5-square-mile town spends about $12,000 a month on streetlights, Rapp said. If Swissvale reduced light costs, then the municipality likely would pave more roads with the money, Rapp said.
“Our concern is the bottom line that we spend each month,” Rapp said.
And while streetlight costs have been a concern for many towns near Pittsburgh's border, some communities always have taken a minimalist approach.
In Whitehall, streetlights can only be found “every once in a while,” mostly at intersections, borough Manager James Leventry said.
“That's just the way the town was developed,” Leventry said. “We don't have every street lined with them.”
Whitehall leaders budgeted $55,000 to light the streets this year, Leventry said.
Baldwin Borough, where streetlights more densely line every street, paid $246,263 in 2011 to light the streets, and $201,808 in 2012, Barrett said. The savings from 2011 to 2012 came from the removal of 281 of the towns streetlights during 2012.
The borough estimates an annual savings of about $66,000, when the lights are down for a full cycle. However, Duquesne Light officials said they did not remove all of the 366 streetlights Baldwin leaders had requested be taken down due to discrepancies.
Some lights were found to be in other towns or were billed to other places, Barrett said. Baldwin officials plan to conduct a follow-up, likely in June.
“We're constantly reviewing it,” Barrett said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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