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Aldermen want lawyer to keep eye on cost of 'efficient' street lights

December 17. 2013 10:25PM

MANCHESTER — Aldermen have voted to spend up to $25,000 to hire an attorney to represent the city's interests as the Public Utilities Commission reviews rates for converting to efficient LED streetlights.

The aldermen made the decision at Tuesday's meeting at the urging of Mayor Ted Gatsas, who learned only a couple weeks ago that the PUC was prepared to accept the rates proposed by Public Service of New Hampshire for the LED program.

Gatsas said he and Deputy Public Works Director Tim Clougherty were able to get the PUC to agree to allow Manchester to be an intervenor in the review process. The rates could have gone into effect as soon as Jan. 1 if the PUC had not agreed to the delay.

Gatsas said the city was "lucky" to learn two weeks ago that the LED program was under review, and he noted the utility made no effort to involve the city.

Gatsas told aldermen that the city has been pushing PSNH to make the move to highly efficient LED (light-emitting diode) streetlights for several years. The city, he said, is by far PSNH's largest municipal customer, with nearly 9,000 street lights. Its electric bill to PSNH is nearly $1.4 million annually.

Hiring the attorney was necessary, he said, "so we can talk about electric rates in a position of authority and also of strength." He added, "I think $25,000 is a small amount compared to what we are going to save."

Clougherty said he believed the tariff — or rate — proposed by PSNH for the LED program was more? advantageous to the utility. "They did provide a basis for what the tariff should be, but I don't feel the way the LED tariff is structured by PSNH is as beneficial to the city as it should be. I think it's minimally beneficial," he said.

Gatsas noted that the city is already paying 30 cents per kilowatt-hour to PSNH. "The question is whether that rate is going to stay the same or if it's going to go down based on us using less kilowatts," he said.

Several aldermen were reluctant to approve hiring an attorney without a projection of how much the city could save by going to LED lights, and they were also upset that they weren't informed about the matter sooner.

Gatsas argued that disclosing these numbers publicly would put the city at a disadvantage in the PUC process. The aldermen voted to go into nonpublic session to discuss the figures.

After reconvening, the aldermen voted to support hiring the attorney.

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