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City looks at replacing street lights with LEDs

By Elaine Della-Mattia, Sault Star

There’s a cost to saving energy.

But there’s also a cost to using it.

City council passed a resolution Monday asking PUC president and CEO Dominic Parrella to appear at the next council meeting and discuss any plans to implement LED street lights.

In Ontario, 95 cities – including most other Northern Ontario communities – have committed to converting street lights to LED street lights while another 30 or 40 are in various stages of implementing the conversion.

Earlier this year, city council also heard that the city’s costs of energy and maintenance have soared by more than $700,000 over the past year – an increased expense that council will soon need to find in the budget.

Mover of the resolution, Ward 1 Coun. Steve Butland said there are incentive programs available by the Independent Electrical Systems Operator (IESO) to aid with the capital costs for municipalities if the project is completed by the end of 2015.

The IESO is a not-for-profit group whose mandate is to work with the Ontario Power Authority on electricity use issues.

“I know it will be a chore to get it done but other cities are in the same boat, I would think,” Butland told city council.

He said it’s anticipated that the $3 to $4 million investment will be paid back in four years.

“Since we didn’t do this last year, we have that $700,000 bill this year,” he said.

But the effort to save money isn’t that easy, said Giordan Zin, PUC’s communication supervisor.

The PUC has been examining the option to convert street lights to LED since 2012 but with the existing aging infrastructure, true costs are estimated to be much higher than Butland’s figures, at between $9 and $11 million, Zin said.

He said that the $3 to $4 million projected by Butland is only the costs of the actual bulbs and heads and those numbers don’t factor in installation costs of the replacement of polls or other ancillary costs.

“It’s not just a matter of replacing the bulb. The heads need to be changed and some of the polls, with our aging infrastructure, also need to be replaced,” Zin said.

With 9,000 street lights in Sault Ste. Marie, the task is daunting, Zin said. Smaller communities are able to complete the work because they have much fewer lights to change, he said.

The project has never begun because there needs to be a strong coordination between the city, who plays for the lights and equipment, and the PUC who manages the streetlights on the city’s behalf.

“We’ve looked at this a few time but we need to find a good time when they have the money and we have the resources to complete the work,” Zin said. “It’s a real balancing act.”

Zin said in order to qualify for the incentive, all the lights would need to be changed prior to year end.

LED lights in Sault Ste. Marie could offer an energy savings of between 30-50% and a 50-70% reduction in maintenance costs.

Currently, there are only 50 LED lights operating in Sault Ste. Marie.

The PUC is currently replacing hps bulbs with LED bulbs when new lights are installed on new roads or subdivisions, he said.

Zin said the PUC will present a report to council at its Feb. 23 meeting.