WHITMAN — The town’s planned purchase of LED streetlights is aimed at shedding light on safety while saving the town money down the road.
Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green presented the proposal, which the board supported 5-0, to Selectmen at the Tuesday, Feb. 20 meeting. The purchase will next go before voters at the annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 7.
The town’s roads are illuminated by 856 streetlights, each currently powered by high-pressure sodium technology, Green noted.
“Over the last few years, many Massachusetts cities and towns have been purchasing their streetlights from National Grid and converting [them] to LED (light-emitting diode) technology,” she said.
The streetlights now cost Whitman an average of $152,600 per year to power them. LED lights cost less and use less power to operate, and National Grid has provided the town with a quote for purchasing the streetlights.
“That quote is zero,” she said. “It’s going to cost us zero dollars to purchase the streetlights from National Grid.”
There is also a $49,263 grant available, and National Grid is also providing a reimbursable utility incentive of around $70,000. Total construction cost for converting the lights to LED technology would cost an estimated $278,364.
The grants will bring the cost to the town to $158,309.
The LED lights would save Whitman an estimated $51,396 annually in operating costs.
“As you know, Whitman is a Green Community and converting streetlights to LED is an energy-saving measure, so you are able to include that number [$158,309] on our next Green Communities grant application,” she said. “If we were awarded the next Green Communities money, this project could be funded 100 percent [through grants]. … That is an incredibly huge benefit to the town of Whitman.”
“There is a possibility that we will not receive that grant,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said. “The way I’ve recommended structuring this program is that we will seek permission to borrow $280,000 at the annual Town Meeting.”
He is looking into Statehouse Notes for the possibility of subsidized borrowing for the funds. The Metropolitan Planning Council may also be an alternative funding source but the expectation is that by moving ahead with the project even without grant funding, the cost could be recovered within four years through the savings in the streetlight account.
“It’s a win-win,” he said.
Selectman Dan Salvucci asked if the change to LED streetlights would be brighter than the current ones.
“LEDs can be purchased in different illuminations,” Green said. “They do tend to be brighter, but not you-need-sunglasses-type brighter.”
Salvucci also asked if residents of a street with no streetlight can purchase one and pay operating costs, as is done in Hanson on some private roadways.
Lynam said there are two lights being privately built right now. He also stressed that the Green Communities grant is a competitive process.
Green said the project was ready to start Wednesday, Feb. 21 by entering into an agreement with the Metropolitan Planning Council to begin an audit and the process of reconstruction of the lights. To fund by Green Communities, the town would have to wait for that grant approval, sometime in July.
“The whole project has to be completed by Dec. 31, 2018 and right now everything is falling into place for us to meet that deadline,” Green said.
The town would have to contract for a maintenance plan for the streetlights.
In other business, Selectmen voted to decline its right of first refusal for an affordable housing unit at 100 Franklin St., which was a 40-B project containing five affordable units in the facility, according to Lynam.
“When an affordable unit is sold, the town reserves the right of first refusal,” he said. “Certainly we have no desire to own this property.”
Lynam contacted the Housing Authority, which did not wish to commit the funds to purchase it, so he asked the board to vote to decline the right of first refusal.
Selectman Scott Lambiase questioned the terms of sale, which indicated if a buyer is not found through a lottery sale – which would not be unusual – a sale at market rate would be allowed with any profits going to the town of North Andover.
“Whoever typed that [the letter outlining sale terms] got a few things wrong.” Lynam said. “But the money, if it’s sold in open market conditions, any profit over the acquisition would come to the town to be used for affordable housing [in Whitman].”
Whitman does not have an affordable housing trust, so the sale proceeds, “after consideration, probably would be turned over to the Housing Authority to use to supplement affordable housing,” according to Lynam.
“This isn’t how I typically see it done,” Lambiase said.
Another procedural error with the sale is that the right of first refusal notice had been sent to the Board of Appeals a week and a half earlier, instead of Selectmen, Lynam noted.
“North Andover is an error all the way around,” he said in response to Lambiase’s concern that that community had taken over the lottery sale process. “Obviously this is a form letter they use in surveys.”
Lynam will note that the town of Whitman has voted to decline its right of first refusal and point out that any proceeds, should it go in the public market are to go to the town of Whitman.