Streetlights are seen on the 100 block of W. Montgomery Ave. in North Wales, with an incandescent cobra head fixture producing orange light in the foreground, an LED fixture producing white light second, and another incandescent third.
NORTH WALES — Streetlights around North Wales Borough could get considerably brighter soon, now that the town has signed on to the second round of a regional program to upgrade those lights to new, energy-efficient LED models.
"We have 180 existing cobra head fixtures, of which we're going to upgrade 167 of those. Fifteen of those are existing LED lights, so we're not going to upgrade those, but we also added two new fixtures to areas we thought were under-lit," said consultant Mike Fuller of Keystone Lighting Solutions.
Since January, the borough and staff have discussed whether North Wales should sign on to the second round of a regional program coordinated by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, to replace and upgrade streetlights around the region with newer models. Fuller told council on Aug. 27 that the first round of the project included 35 municipalities who upgraded over 25,000 streetlights and produced a savings of roughly $15 million in net savings on energy costs over the next 20 years.
The second round being finalized by DVRPC in conjunction with Keystone would include an additional 26 municipalities, including North Wales, and a total of roughly 15,000 streetlights. Changes in the procurement processes have led to an early estimate of roughly 18 percent savings compared to round one, Fuller told council, before outlining several options for council to choose from.
Keystone's audit of the borough's lighting systems produced a cost estimate of roughly $43,000 to refit the 167 cobra head streetlights, Fuller said, and Keystone and borough staff have also identified a total of 58 decorative streetlights, mostly located in the Main and Walnut street area. The firm is recommending those not be replaced due to higher costs, roughly $30,000 for those 58 lights, since those decorative lights would need the entire assembly replaced and not just the light fixture.
"We initially were going to just not do the decoratives at all. In our comprehensive plan, in the next five to seven years, they're talking about streetscapes and funding and grants and so on," said Borough Manager Christine Hart.
"Not knowing where that's headed, and knowing the infrastructure on Main Street needs to be repaired as well, we don't want to throw good money after bad," she said.
Keystone's study also identified a total of 21 area lights, such as spotlights mounted on borough buildings and in parks, that could also qualify for upgrades under the program. The firm also gave council two options for monitoring and controlling those light systems: manual fixture controls, which Fuller compared to switches that would be affixed to each light pole and totaling roughly $5,000, or a networked control system that would let the lights communicate with each other and with staff from remote locations and would cost an estimated $31,000.
Using the networked system, the town could more closely monitor and change light levels, Fuller said, giving an example of running the streetlights at 70 percent of full power in early evening, going to 100 percent from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., then back to 70 percent from 2 a.m. to sunrise.
"Basically, by having a networked system, it's really turning those un-metered fixtures into metered fixtures. So if you do some of those dimming strategies, (residents) would see it, and you would get those additional savings," Fuller said.
"Generally, with street lighting, we find most municipalities don't play with those schedules and strategies. But you could," he said.
Combining the cobra head replacements, the area lighting, and a manual control system would bring the project to a total cost of just over $53,000, Fuller said, with annual operating savings of just under $4,900 per year and a total payback period of 11.9 years from lower electricity bills. Adding in the network control system would bring the total price up to just over $78,000, with roughly $6,500 in annual savings, and a payback period of 12.2 years; full details including pricing of other options are included in the board's meeting materials packet for Aug. 27.
Hart said those figures were well below initial estimates of roughly $90,000 for the project, and the costs could be covered out of pocket using money the borough has budgeted for capital infrastructure projects in recent years, eliminating the need for any financing.
"Until we get a hold on the decoratives, we're really focused on the cobra heads, the area lighting, and manual controls. We are in a position that we do not have to finance, so we're saving a lot there," Hart said.
Council member Wendy McClure asked which control system, manual or network, staff preferred. Hart said manual controls would likely be enough, since changes could be made occasionally if certain lights are too bright or not bright enough, but the network system seemed unnecessary.
"The computer controls are really above and beyond what we need. That's for townships that have 2,000 or 3,000 lights, where they have 40 guys on the street that are Public Works maintenance crews," she said.
"The savings that we would get, $1,900 of savings (annually) for a cost of $25,000 to put in the computerized controls, is not going to benefit our community," Hart said.
Council Vice President Jim Cherry asked where and why some of the cobra heads already contained LEDs. Hart said staff have been making repairs using the newer technology as necessary, and one LED light can be seen on Montgomery Avenue just south of Main Street, and others at the crosswalk at Main and Shearer Streets.
Paying out of pocket could also help the town in another way, Fuller added: since those that finance are usually done later in the program, North Wales could be among the first towns in line for work, and could see their streetlights upgraded as soon as October or November, with crews capable of doing 30 to 40 light upgrades per day.
"We are putting the non-financing communities generally earlier in the construction schedule, because it's one less hurdle you have to get over," Fuller said.
Councilman Dan O'Connell asked if the decorative lights should be included in the documentation for the cobra heads and area lighting now. Fuller and Hart said that could be included as an option in the documents for the final agreement.
Cherry asked police Chief Michael Eves if he had any questions, and Eves replied "No, sir." McClure then added,"he's going to be able to see better," an answer that drew laughs from council and the chief.
Council then voted unanimously to approve a purchasing, procurement and construction agreement, and Hart said she will give updates as details are finalized.
Borough council next meets at 7 p.m. on Sept. 10 at the borough municipal building, 300 School St. For more information visit www.NorthWalesBorough.org.
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