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February 21, 2013

Port streetlight purchase switches back on

Proposal shining once again on City Council

NEWBURYPORT — A team of local officials is proposing that the city move forward with a plan to buy its streetlights from National Grid and set up a system for maintaining them.

Molly Ettenborough, the city’s recycling and energy coordinator; Peter Lombardi, director of policy and administration; Ethan Manning, business manager; and Michael Strauss, chairman of the city’s Energy Advisory Committee, have sent a recommendation to the City Council urging it to take ownership of the streetlights that line Newburyport.

The team said it is following the guidance of a city-retained consultant, George Newbury, as part of its mission to develop a comprehensive lighting-management plan for the city.

The City Council referred the recommendation to its Public Utilities Committee.

State law permits communities to acquire their streetlights from their local utility for “net book value.”

The city currently pays about $234,990 per year to National Grid to operate 1,544 distributed streetlights and 127 non-distributed poles.

Newburyport would pay National Grid a one-time fee of about $117,000 for the lights and poles. The city would still be responsible for energy costs, but ostensibly would be saving money by purchasing and maintaining the lightbulbs in the future and eliminating the lease fee for the lights and poles.

After the purchase of the streetlights, team leaders anticipate the city will realize an annual savings of $85,808. That would translate into $1.8 million savings over the next 20 years, they said.

One route to administering the system without the aid of National Grid would be to hire an outside vendor. But the team feels an in-house operation would be more cost-efficient.

The team’s memo said, “We feel the costs and (outside) manpower needed to manage the contract would largely outweigh the benefits.

“We recommend initially performing the maintenance in-house, on a trial basis, by the electrical inspector utilizing existing city resources and acquiring additional supplies/equipment on an as-needed basis.”

The City Council has been discussing purchasing the streetlights for several years. Councilor Ari Herzog, chairman of the council’s Public Utilities Committee, said the full council will get to explore the issue again in the coming weeks after his panel studies the proposal.

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