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Street light LED plan hits another snag

GLOVERSVILLE — After city officials last month discussed the supposed end to years of delays from National Grid over the sale of city street lights to the municipality to allow a cost saving LED conversion project to move forward, Mayor Vincent DeSantis on Tuesday reported that plans had once again hit a skid following a new communication from the utility company.

The city since September 2017 has been working to secure from National Grid a purchase price to assume ownership and maintenance of the street lights and related infrastructure across the city to reduce overall costs. The city in recent years has pursued the option as part of a broader plan to convert existing fixtures to energy efficient LEDs to reduce electricity use and therefore power costs.

Plans seemed to be lined up in June as the Common Council authorized the city to issue a bond for up to $660,000 for the LED conversion project to be performed by Tanko Lighting. The bond will cover the cost of purchasing the street lights from National Grid, for the equipment necessary to convert the existing street lights to LEDs and Tanko’s fee for planning and installation.

The bond is expected to be fully repaid in just over four years through the anticipated savings from the project. The city currently pays approximately $223,270 a year to National Grid to power and maintain existing street lights. Assuming ownership of the lights and converting the fixtures to LEDs is expected to save the city about $160,000 a year on energy and maintenance costs.

The bond authorization set the timeline for the conversion project to finally begin later this summer with needed equipment to be delivered in August and installation expected to be completed in November. The city and National Grid earlier this year agreed to a $215,229 purchase price for the existing street lights, but a contract from the utility company received in May misstated the price, inflating it by roughly $30,000. DeSantis expected to resolve the error and sign the corrected contract in June.

However, DeSantis reported to the Common Council on Tuesday that although National Grid had corrected the price in consultation with the state Public Service Commission, a representative of the utility company in a recent email stated that the final purchase would now have to be formally authorized by the state commission with approval likely to be returned in November. The city will not be able to begin the LED conversion project until the state signs off on the agreement and ownership of the street lights is subsequently transferred to the city.

The mayor informed the council that he issued a letter to the utility company expressing his “outrage” over the situation that had seemingly finally been resolved.

“We have contractors that are ready to go on this project,” said DeSantis. “It’s cost the taxpayers of our city money every day that we have those older lights.”

DeSantis said he took the additional step of contacting Assemblyman Robert Smullen’s office seeking support in expediting the approval process with the Public Service Commission. Smullen previously helped the city push National Grid and the Public Service Commission to finally set and approve the purchase price for the street lights before this most recent setback.

“They got back to me today that they contacted people at the Public Service Commission. They have a contact there that’s been very effective in the past so I’m hopeful that we can get that expedited,” said DeSantis.

Frank Malagisi of Smullen’s Johnstown office reportedly also forwarded to the Public Service Commission a detailed letter from DeSantis outlining the history of the long outstanding situation between the city and National Grid.

“[Malagisi] expressed some optimism that they’ll be able to get somewhere,” said DeSantis. “I certainly would like to start on that project … We’re ready to go by the middle of August so let’s hope we get some positive news back.”

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