WILLIAMSTOWN — This year, folks are going to start seeing things in a different light. Literally.
After more than two years of work and planning, a project taken on by the COOL Committee to replace all the town-owned streetlight bulbs with lower-energy LED bulbs is entering the final stages.
According to Nancy Nylen and Stephanie Boyd, volunteers on the COOL Committee, it has been a long, complicated process that has included the town taking over financial responsibility for all the streetlights from the Prudential Committee, which runs the fire district.
“Our goal was to reduce the town’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Nylen said. “Any time you can do that and save money, that makes it easy to say ‘yes.’”
The whole thing started when National Grid, which owns the streetlights, announced that it would be replacing the old high-pressure sodium lightbulbs with LED lights, but the type of bulb it was going to use drew opposition from people claiming that they are too bright, a distracting blueish-white brilliance.
So, Nylen and Boyd figured out that if the town were to buy the streetlights, all 553 of them, it could pick its own lightbulbs. Then they discovered that if the town owned the streetlights and took over maintenance of the fixtures, it would save about $46,000 in maintenance costs and about $14,000 in the cost of the electricity, or about $60,000 per year.
“That’s a good investment, a good return on your money,” Boyd said.
“And it’s a better-quality light that uses less greenhouse gases,” Nylen added.
After the fire district transferred responsibility for the streetlight fixtures, and after delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it began working with National Grid to buy the fixtures. It agreed to buy the 500-plus streetlight fixtures for a total price of $1. That sale is expected to conclude in the coming days.
That purchase includes the light fixtures and bulbs hanging from the utility poles, not the poles themselves.
The COOL Committee has scheduled a community public information session via Zoom at 7 p.m. July 20. Also coming up will be an opportunity to compare the quality of light from three types of LED bulbs.
Once that has been completed and the type of bulb chosen, the bulbs will be purchased and a contractor will begin installation, with completion hoped for by the end of the year.
Officials expect that the cost of the bulbs and installation will be paid back in less than four years, through the annual savings in maintenance and power.
The overall annual cost will shrink from $82,000 a year to about $22,000. The streetlights on property owned by Williams College, about as many as on town land, are owned and paid for by the college.
Yet to be done is the procurement of liability insurance for the fixtures and the hiring of a contractor to perform the installation of the new bulbs — and to buy the new bulbs.
The new bulbs are expected to reduce the estimated annual electricity usage from 300,000 kilowatt-hours to 100,000.
Nylen explained that the new bulbs will be brighter and more focused, cutting down on light migration to nearby properties, and they will last through 30,000 hours of usage — about four times as long as the older bulbs.
Town meeting voters this month approved spending $265,000 on the project.