Power authority pitches energy savings plan in the Falls

James Neiss/staff photographerNiagara Falls, NY - View of Main Street for City of Niagara Falls LED Light story.

The New York Power Authority is encouraging the City of Niagara Falls to take a bold step to go “green” and potentially save as much as a million dollars a year in energy costs.

In a presentation to the Falls City Council this week, officials from the power authority recommended a complete take-over of the city’s street light system as part of an energy efficiency and cost savings plan that would convert incandescent street light bulbs to light-emitting diodes.

A power authority representative told the council the authority was selected in January 2018 to implement the state’s Smart Street Lighting NY program, with a goal of converting 500,000 street lights to LEDs by 2025. The rep said program provides “significant savings” to taxpayers and leads to improved lighting quality.

“You’ll save two-thirds of your (electric) bill by (street light) ownership,” Joseph Crimi, NYPA’s Senior Program Manager for LED Street Light Upgrade Projects, said. “It’s the biggest part of your bill.”

Crimi argued that taking over the operation of the street light system, a program known as “pole purchase,” would give the city more control over the design and possible enhancement of the system, including the addition of public infrastructure services such as community WiFi.

Under the power authority’s proposal to the city, the authority would assist the Falls in acquiring the street light system from National Grid. It would also conduct a photometric analysis of the system and suggest improvements.

Crimi also caught the attention of city council members by telling them the power authority “can finance the project, with no cost to the city until construction is complete.” National Grid has told the city the cost of purchasing all of its 5,439 pole lights would be between $3.5 and $4 million.

If the city were to purchase the entire pole system it would also open up the opportunity for the Falls to apply for SMART Cities grant funding. The power authority has access to $7.5 million in SMART Cities funding.

The power authority plan would also see the authority contracting to handle the day-to-day operation of the street light system, so the city would not need to set up its open street light division. 

Crimi told the council that Albany, Syracuse, Utica and Buffalo have all signed on to the NYPA conversion program. 

City Controller Daniel Morello said he projected a 10-year repayment plan for the NYPA financing of the street light acquisition. 

“The hope would be, if we’re currently spending $1.2 million (on street lights), the new projected cost would be $300,000 a year and we’d save $100,000 a year (while paying off the financing),” Morello said. 

Council members also have a proposal from on the table from National Grid that could save the city more than $166,000 a year in electricity costs.

That plan calls for National Grid to continue to own and maintain the city’s pole lights.

Under the National Grid plan, the city would purchase each incandescent light bulb, valued at $27, currently on a pole. The total purchase cost would be $149,355.

The Falls would then be eligible for a clean energy incentive for each LED light that it purchases and installs, so that the incentive would total $306,325 and create a cost conversion credit of $156,970 for the city.

The city would continue to pay National Grid a facilities fee to maintain the poles and keep them operational, as well as a delivery charge for the energy cost to power them.

After paying off the financing of a complete system purchase, Morello has told the council that he estimates the annual yearly savings to the city would be between $800,000 and $900,000.

The controller asked the council to allow more time for him and city administrators to also investigate proposals from conversion from private entities.

Though Dyster warned soliciting proposals from private contractors could require the city to issue requests for proposals.