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December 22. 2013 10:37PM

PSNH downplays city savings of converting to LED street lights

MANCHESTER — Public Service of New Hampshire is downplaying the savings that Manchester might realize by converting to efficient LED (light-emitting diode) street lights.

The state Public Utilities Commission earlier this month granted the city the right to intervene in PSNH's petition to establish a new rate for the LED lights as part of its street lighting service for government entities. The commission was prepared to rule on the petition by the end of this month until city officials rushed to Concord to intervene.

The PSNH request, which was posted as a legal notice in this newspaper in late October, will likely be of interest to several communities that have eyed LED lights.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted last Tuesday to spend up to $25,000 to hire an attorney to represent the city's interests before the PUC.

The city has nearly 9,000 street lights and is by far PSNH's largest municipal customer. Its electric bill to PSNH to keep the street lights on is approximately $1.4 million annually.

But under the tariff structure proposed by PSNH the city, in converting to LED lights, would only see an overall estimated reduction in costs of 8 percent. This? is because the city already uses high-pressure sodium lights, which are considered relatively efficient, consuming 50-70 watts; LEDs consume 40 watts.

Under PSNH's proposal, communities would bear all the costs associated with the purchase and installation of lights. At a cost of $300 per light, as quoted by a PSNH spokesman, the purchase of 9,000 lights could cost nearly $3 million.

PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said converting to LEDs would be more advantageous for communities that are using older, less efficient mercury lights, which consume 100 watts. A document submitted by PSNH to the utilities commission shows that such towns could see their electric bills go down by 40 to 70 percent.

"It may not work for every customer, especially if they have very efficient lighting now," Murray said. "It may not be this specific tariff that has Manchester concerned as much how (the city) can reduce its consumption more and how it can provide the light its citizens want."

Deputy Public Works Director Tim Clougherty said the city would push for a more favorable rate. He disagreed with Martin's contention that there wasn't a strong financial incentive to convert to LEDs.

"We feel confident that LED technology is highly applicable to the city of Manchester, and we look forward to being able to employ such technology in a cost-effective manner," Clougherty said.

At the aldermen's meeting, Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig, a former city parks director, said it was worth exploring a conversion to LEDs solely for the quality of the light. The current lights, Ludwig said, "are the worst" he had seen. "This orange light, we get complaints all the time," he said.

tsiefer@unionleader.com

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