The Block Island Times

Town Council debates LED streetlights

By Stephanie Turaj | Nov 22, 2013

As other towns throughout Rhode Island convert to Light Emitting Diode (LED) streetlights, the Block Island Town Council is considering the best way to install the same technology.

Using these energy efficient lightbulbs would save the town about $9,000 a year, Electric Utilities Task Group (EUTG) Chair Barbara MacMullan told the council at its Monday, Nov. 18 meeting.

“Doing this is not unusual. LEDs are reliable and cost effective,” said MacMullan. According to a recent article in The Providence Journal, last year the town of Burriville, R.I., changed its 56 streetlights to this technology.

In a letter to the council, the EUTG recommended “that the Town Council go into negotiations with the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) to establish a program to convert the current street lighting to LED lighting, which would include taking over ownership of the lights from BIPCo, and submit a joint application to the [Public Utilities Commission] PUC to establish a new tariff for such.”

First Warden Kim Gaffett questioned if it was necessary for the town to purchase the lights. She said converting them “conceptually sounds like a good idea to me, but I don’t know why we’d want to buy them from BIPCo. I need to see the advantage to the town.”

Currently, BIPCo owns and maintains the lights. It charges the town a tariff for operation. The tariff does not change based on consumption. Therefore, a reduction in energy use because of a switch to LEDs would not be reflected in what the town pays for use of the streetlights.

“The problem here is there is currently no incentive,” said MacMullan, referring to the switch to the LEDs without a change in the tariff. “But there is an opportunity for great savings.”

Town Councilor Chris Warfel called for more information from BIPCo, including a selling price for the lights. BIPCo co-owner Cliff McGinnes Sr. told the group he would be willing to sell the lights to the town.

“You [BIPCo] keep saying you’d like the town to buy them. If you want the town to buy them, you need to come up with a price,” said Warfel.

Warfel also said, because of a new state law, that it is BIPCo’s responsibility to file a new tariff for the streetlights with the PUC that would be based on consumption, not a flat rate. McGinnes said he was unaware of the new law, but he would look into it.

After a discussion, the council voted to have Councilor Norris Pike negotiate with BIPCo a means to convert to LED streetlights.

Later in the meeting, island resident Rob Gilpin said: “We’re just cherry picking here. We’re not asking the power company to run the town, so why is the town trying to run the power company?”

Deepwater discussion

A debate ensued between council members about issues relating to Deepwater Wind. The conversation took several sidebars and lasted about an hour, with councilors debating their opinions on the Deepwater project.

The council had asked the EUTG to evaluate the reduction in emissions that would result if Deepwater installs its wind farm off the coast of Block Island. However, the EUTG concluded this was too complex a question to evaluate, and would need an outside expert to thoroughly investigate, if the council chose to do so.

The issue was initially brought up by Councilor Warfel, who said that the analysis done by the Department of Environmental Management about the emissions was inaccurate. However, Warfel seemed reluctant to have the town spend money to hire an expert.

Also, the council discussed performing an analysis of the costs and benefits of the Deepwater Wind Block Island project.

No action was taken on either of these points.

Town Manager Contract signed

Town Manager Nancy Dodge signed her manager contract on Nov. 18, she confirmed to The Block Island Times. This is a nine month contract that expires in August 2014.

At the Nov. 18 council meeting, the council voted for a minor change. The original contract, which had been accepted in a 5-0 vote, called for a three-month review of Dodge in January. However, the contract took a month for Dodge to review and sign, so the council voted to extend this review period to February.

The vote to make this change was 4-1. Warfel voted against, because he said, “I don’t agree with the process.”

Other matters

During public input, island resident Fred Nelson informed the council of potentially unsafe conditions at Second Bluffs, located near Pilot Hill and Mohegan Trail. Nelson informed the council that the edges of the bluffs look like they might “give way” and he suggested posting signs to let people know of the situation.

Also at the meeting, the council voted to send a letter to the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, seeking ways to bring the Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP) to Block Island. No Block Island store accepts government food stamps through SNAP.

The council approved three grant applications. The town is applying for two Department of Environmental Management grants, for renovation to the town Beach Pavilion, and construction of a bathroom facility at Ball O’Brien park. The town is also applying for a Rhode Island Open Space grant for development of the Mary D. Park.

The council accepted the resignation of Martha Ball from the Tourism Council. Gaffett announced a list of all expiring terms on town boards and commissions. The available positions will be posted at within the next few weeks.

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