Edgartown and Oak Bluffs see savings in LED street lights

An LED street light fixture was installed on Wing Road in Oak Bluffs in February as part of a demonstration period with Cape Light Compact. — Photo by Christy Aumer

The towns of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are moving ahead with plans to outfit their conventional street lights with LED bulbs. The move is expected to save each town thousands of dollars in electricity and maintenance costs.

The Cape Light Compact (CLC), a public regional energy services organization created in 1997 to work with the combined buying power of the region’s 200,000 electric consumers, is sponsoring the switch through its LED Municipal Streetlight Project.

Cape Light Compact LED Municipal Streetlight Project program manager Kevin Galligan said the towns have a combined projected annual savings of slightly more than $40,000, and participation in the project comes with no cost to the town other than the cost of police details that might be required during the installation work.

The light-emitting diode models, Mr. Galligan said, have less of an orange, yellow glow, will keep up with brutal winters and cruel summers, and require less maintenance than high-pressure sodium or mercury vapor lights, two types of illumination Oak Bluffs and Edgartown currently use.

Selectmen in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown recently voted to move forward with the Cape Light Compact project. The switch will result in the replacement of an estimated 288 street lights with LED fixtures in Edgartown, and 492 in Oak Bluffs, by June 2014.

In February, about 10 LED streetlight fixtures were installed in each town’s commercial and residential areas as part of a demonstration.

Oak Bluffs highway department superintendent Richard Combra Jr. said it was “hard to say no,” to the Cape Light Compact project. “Saving money is always high on my list,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. Combra said the current high-pressure sodium bulbs in Oak Bluffs burn out every few months. Mr. Galligan estimates LED light bulbs can last between 10 and 20 years.

Mr. Combra thinks the switch to LED lights could result in a 50 percent annual savings in electric costs, and a 75 percent annual savings in maintenance costs.

Edgartown selectman Arthur Smadbeck echoed Mr. Combra’s enthusiasm for the potential savings. “Our maintenance costs go down, operating costs go down, and the investment is paid through Cape Light Compact,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “We don’t usually have that good of luck.”

West Tisbury chairman Cynthia Mitchell said the town is considering switching to LED streetlights, but no definite decisions have been made.

Mr. Galligan said the towns can budget for the estimated annual savings under a procurement law designed for energy conservation projects.

“The selected contractor will guarantee the energy savings by swapping out the old streetlights for new LED’s for us,” Mr. Galligan said. “Towns like to take on no risk, and this process does that.”

NSTAR ratepayers have been contributing to the project through an Energy Conservation surcharge added to NSTAR bills. Mr. Galligan said the Energy Conservation money contributes to fund energy-efficiency programs on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard that CLC administers.

The LED Municipal Streetlight Project is Cape Light Compact’s largest program, according to Mr. Galligan, but the energy efficiency based organization isn’t breaking into new territory.

“We’re not the first set of communities to be doing this on a large scale,” he said. “Numerous communities have done this and have been enjoying the benefits, or are frankly in the process.”

Mr. Galligan said CLC began receiving serious inquiries over three years ago from several towns about rebates for installing LEDs. Initially, he was concerned about the specifications and quality of the solid-state technology. Over the last several years, the technology improved and the price of LEDs begun to level off, he said.

Mr. Combra is enthusiastic about the switch. “LED lighting is not only the future, but it’s happening now,” he said.

About 20 Cape towns are expected to move forward with the project, installing around 14,000 streetlight fixtures with a projected annual savings of more than $500,000, Mr. Galligan said. The total estimated cost of the LED streetlight retrofit project is about $5 million, which represents about 17 percent of the total annual energy efficiency program budget of approximately $29.9 million.