Lincoln seeks joint bid on streetlight conversion

Lincoln seeks joint bid on streetlight conversion

Possible savings in town ‘loaded with state roads’

LINCOLN – It’s been several years since Lincoln officials first began considering converting the town’s streetlights to energy-efficient LED lights. The town would join other communities across the state that have saved costs and energy by making the switch.

Lincoln is one of four communities planning to collectively bid on a LED conversion, preparing to issue a request for proposals as a group along with Smithfield, Middletown and Jamestown. Pawtucket has also been involved in the talks as a possible fifth community.

Town Administrator Joseph Almond said the town hired a consultant and met with representatives from National Grid over the summer regarding the conversion, but officials decided to put the brakes on the process to assess the potential impact of a settlement made in November between the power company and the town of Johnston.

Eight years ago, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena stopped paying National Grid for streetlights on state roads. Under the terms of the settlement, he agreed to pay National Grid the $3 million owed for past light operation, but that town is not responsible for the electric bill on state roads after its debts are paid.

In the case of Johnston, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation said it would have to pick up the tab. As a result, communities such as Lincoln that are still waiting to convert to LED lights are hoping they, too, are off the hook for paying to power streetlights on state roads, and must now decide whether to purchase lights for those roads at all.

“We’ve been watching what’s happening for about three years and have been careful not to jump right into anything,” Almond said. “If Grid agrees not to charge Johnston for lights and the state pays, they should pay for ours, too.”

Almond said the settlement in Johnston put Lincoln and the four other communities it’s working with in a unique position where they’ve been “put on hold” and must wait for more information before proceeding.

A statement released by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation accuses the mayors of some communities of “reneging on a long-standing agreement” that when a mayor asked a utility company to install a light on a state road, he or she pays the bill for the light.

“Our role in this was to give the mayor access to our state land for the light,” the statement reads. “Having said that, this is a new day. Many of those lights were put up before an urban sprawl. We at RIDOT are responsible for the safety of roadways and travelers. We will not let them go dark, it is not safe.”

RIDOT officials are hoping other mayors “will act reasonably and judiciously” to provide a safe transition and ensure the safety of the motoring public. The department is in the process of quantifying the number of roads affected, what kind of lighting is on those roads, and what the process will entail.

Almond also agreed that he would not turn off the lights on state roads, as it is a public safety issue. He said he is working to determine the final number of streetlights the town will need to purchase.

All of Lincoln’s lights are currently owned by National Grid, with the town footing the bill for electricity on all roads except state highways such as Routes 146 and 295. If the state starts paying to light state roads, Lincoln would benefit substantially, considering it’s, in Almond’s words, “loaded with state roads, including Smithfield Avenue, Walker Street, Old Louisquisset Pike, Twin River Road, School Street, Main Street, Old and New River Roads.”

Almond met with officials from the other communities on Monday to discuss the status of their group bid. While a number of other local communities have chosen to work with the Partnership for Rhode Island Streetlight Management (PRISM), Lincoln decided to go out to bid for vendors.

To date, at least 16 communities across the state have purchased their streetlights from National Grid and upgraded them to LED. In Cumberland, converting the town’s 3,900 streetlights to brighter and more efficient LED lights will save the town an estimated $350,000 annually.