Reducing municipal streetlight expense

Rhode Island’s sweeping streetlight reform project began nearly three years ago when we awarded a grant to the Washington County Regional Planning Council (WCRPC) for research and analysis of a radical redesign of the streetlight system. When they analyzed energy expenses for 13 towns, WCRPC found that street lighting is the largest electricity expense. National Grid owned the lights, their maintenance charges were set in stone, and LED lights or modern dimming systems were not allowed.

Jeff Broadhead, executive director of the WCRPC, reported that, on average, a Rhode Island streetlight owned by National Grid costs $150 per year to operate. Of that, only $55 per year is for electricity and distribution, while $95 is for maintenance and upkeep.

WCRPC authored the Municipal Streetlights Investment Act, secured House and Senate sponsors, and built a coalition of energy, environmental, and government groups. The Act was passed and signed into law in July 2013. Rhode Island cities and towns can now reduce their streetlight expenses by more than 40 percent annually, according to Jeff.

Under the newly enacted reform, municipalities can now buy their streetlights from National Grid. A statewide program known as PRISM (Partnership for Rhode Island Streetlight Management) coordinates a benefit analysis and assists communities in negotiating the purchase price. The city or town then contracts with PRISM for their maintenance.

The state’s cities and towns stand to save around $8 million annually if they purchase their lights. “About 47,000 of the 98,000 streetlights in Rhode Island are at some stage of the program. “

“This ends more than a century of overly expensive utility-owned lighting,” Jeff said.

Photos: WCRPC
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