LED light conversion plagued by delays

Gloversville Mayor Vincent DeSantis on Tuesday reported a potential new delay to the Common Council to the city’s plans to purchase existing street lights across the city from National Grid to then convert the fixtures to LEDs following lags in response from the utility company dating back several years. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — Plans to purchase existing street lights across the city from National Grid to then convert the fixtures to LEDs have been plagued by delays due to slow responses from the utility company over the past several years. The city seemingly overcame these issues at the end of 2019, but officials say they have hit another snag with National Grid.

Mayor Vincent DeSantis reported to the Common Council on Tuesday that the city received an email from a representative with National Grid stating that gaps in the company’s information would require the utility to reassess the cost of the city’s lighting. The city has been waiting to receive a purchase price for the street lights for several years.

A tariff requiring utility companies to offer a street light buyback option went into effect in March 2018 that allows municipalities to purchase their street lights from utility companies, taking over maintenance and reducing the overall cost of utilities.

The tariff followed a state law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015 establishing a procedure for the transfer of ownership of street lights and related infrastructure from public utilities to municipalities or government entities through an application to the Public Service Commission to facilitate the acquisition if it was determined to be in the public’s best interest.

The city first contacted National Grid seeking a purchase price for the street lights in September 2017, but had to request the information again after the tariff went into effect in March 2018. Following further delays the city received a request for additional information from National Grid in November 2019. The city immediately returned the information.

Following this week’s new communication, DeSantis reported that he contacted National Grid by phone and was informed that following the reassessment the city should receive a final purchase price from the utility by the end of February.

“It delays things for another month, because after we agree on a price with National Grid then the Public Service Commission has to approve that,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis reported that he subsequently contacted the city’s representative with Tanko Lighting, the firm the Common Council awarded a $617,969 contract in September to convert the street lights to LEDs following the transfer of ownership.

Tanko representatives are currently performing preliminary design work on the project and inventorying the city’s lights to verify the quantity and locations against accounts from National Grid. DeSantis reported that the city’s contact at Tanko stated that the further delay from National Grid would not currently pose a problem while the project is still in the design phase.

“She also said that there really isn’t any change in the design, there aren’t any additional units that are being added, so she doesn’t understand why there would be a change in the pricing,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said that the Tanko representative planned to contact National Grid for further information and would report back to the city on their results. The representative additionally offered to work with the city on a strategy to speed the process along if National Grid does not provide the final figures by the end of February.

“It’s one of those things where you kind of have to rely on these people and we really don’t have any control over it,” DeSantis said.

In the meantime, DeSantis said he will contact state Assemblyman Robert Smullen requesting assistance with National Grid to “exercise a little pressure” possibly through contacts at the Public Service Commission. Smullen reportedly helped prod a response to the city from National Grid in November after learning about the ongoing communication issues from city officials.

The city currently pays about $223,270 a year to National Grid to power and maintain existing street lights. A presentation from SmartWatt to the Common Council in August 2018 estimated that taking ownership of the utilities and converting the fixtures to LEDs will reduce the cost of power and maintenance to about $67,166 a year, an annual savings of about $156,104.

In related news, DeSantis requested a motion from the Common Council authorizing the city to issue a request for proposals seeking engineering services to review and provide oversight for technical projects undertaken by the city.

DeSantis pointed to the city’s need to review plans involving electricity, plumbing and other detailed systems before performing the LED conversion project, installing a new spray park at Trail Station Park and undertaking other potential projects identified through the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program plan that is currently being developed.

“It doesn’t tie us down to anything, simply fact finding, finding out how much it would cost us to have engineering services through a firm,” DeSantis said. “Just to see what it would cost to have an engineer on call for us to guide us through these things.”

Without further discussion the Common Council approved a motion authorizing the RFP seeking cost estimates for engineering services.

By Josh Bovee

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