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Municipal Street Light Conversion Program Saves Money, Energy

In 2009, municipal officials in Southeastern Pennsylvania began asking their regional planning agency for help in managing their lighting costs. “Outdoor lighting represents a substantial portion of their budget,” explained Liz Compitello, manager of sustainable energy at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. So, the planning agency began developing a program to assist communities with managing projects to convert their street lighting to energy- and cost-efficient LED (light emitting diode) systems. Today, the Regional Streetlight Procurement Program (RSLPP) that was launched in 2015 has assisted 77 municipalities, converting more than 44,000 streetlights and saving $34 million and 25.6 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity. The program is now in its third round of assisting groups of municipalities in undertaking and managing projects through the design-bid-build process with its design professional. Compitello, and the program’s design professional, Mike Fuller of Keystone Lighting Solutions, recently spoke at a Center for Energy Policy and Management webinar on the lighting program. They also talked about considerations for municipalities in this part of the state that want to undertake such projects. A lighting conversion project, Compitello said, can reduce a municipality’s energy consumption and cost by 50 to 75 percent, and maintenance costs by 50 to 80 percent, with the added benefits of reduced light pollution and improved lighting quality and performance. Taking a regional approach to such a project, by allowing a group of municipalities to undertake them jointly, can help as “the majority of municipalities struggle to manage an energy conversion project,” she said. A pooled project, under the guidance of a lighting professional, can help cohorts of 5 to 35 municipalities simplify the process, lower purchasing costs through increased leverage, and use standardized solicitations managed by experts to obtain the best products and services at a lower price, and provide transparency and a common timeline for completion. DVRPC also secures funding for the municipalities through its financial partners. The DVRPC has developed a guide outlining what agencies in other regions should do to replicate the program in their areas. Fuller noted that the biggest barrier to such a project is the ability of some municipalities to be able to buy back their streetlights from their utility provider. Many utilities do not allow communities to own their own streetlights, instead paying a monthly bill for operation and maintenance. A spokesman for West Penn Power, which covers part of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said in an email that the utility owns and maintains the majority of the street lights in its service area. Still, some municipalities do own their own street lights. West Penn will work with communities interested in converting to LED lighting, he said. West Penn Power’s parent company, FirstEnergy Corp., offers its own program that allows municipalities to upgrade their streetlights at a monthly cost that appears on the community’s electric bill.

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