PSEG Long Island has begun a formal count of all the streetlights on Long Island in a move that could lower some municipal electric bills and raise others.
The move is significant because many municipalities have converted old standard light bulbs to considerably more-efficient LEDs and can receive corresponding cost reductions on their energy bills. Streetlights aren’t metered because they use so little energy, so the only way LIPA and PSEG can update the figures is through towns and villages reporting accurate figures.
PSEG’s latest figures indicate there are a total of 257,300 streetlights on Long Island. LIPA charges municipalities a special street lighting rate based on the number of lights they have and their wattage.
Letters from PSEG have gone out to 197 different towns, villages, cities and counties over the past two months requesting that they provide a current listing of all their streetlights.
LIPA in a board action last month noted that customers previously hadn’t been eligible for reductions in past bills after converting or reducing the number of streetlights, though the utility sometimes offered “reasonable” credits.
“There have been issues where a municipality has upgraded street lighting and hasn’t notified us and so they haven’t been billed the lower street lighting cost,” LIPA chief Tom Falcone told trustees.
Under a new grace period offered under a PSEG inventory program, municipalities can receive two years of credit for previously unreported reductions in the number of lights or the power used because they installed more efficient bulbs.
The utility also is offering a grace period for those who may have increased the number of streetlights without reporting the additions to the utility, and therefore not paying LIPA for their use. LIPA under its rules reserves the right to seek up to six years of back charges for municipalities that increased streetlights without reporting them.
“This reconciliation provides you with a unique, time-limited opportunity to receive up to two years of credit for previously unreported reductions in inventory or installation of lower-wattage lighting,” PSEG’s Christopher Braglia, manager of contract management, said in the letter. Customers can also notify PSEG of unreported additions to their lighting before year end “without being subject to back-billing.”
PSEG spokeswoman Kristina Pappas said the utility will do street-lighting spot checks to check the figures, and could conduct a physical audit. “Potentially, this is still being negotiated and finalized,” she said.
LED lights cut the amount of energy used by 75 percent or more and last about 25 times longer, according the U.S. Department of Energy. For streetlights, the bulbs can also cut maintenance costs because they tend not to fail all at once (individual diodes often fail over time, giving municipalities time to change them).
LIPA at a recent board meeting approved changes to its street lighting rules that clarified language about refunds for past charges on lighting. A resolution accompanying the change said the “only substantive change” in the rules was that customers who now report reductions to their street lighting inventories or reduced wattage because of more efficient bulbs could receive bill reductions to bills issued in the past year. “Previously, street lighting customers were not eligible for downward adjustments to bills,” LIPA said.
PSEG will confirm the inventory for each municipality each year.
Street lighting isn’t a big revenue generator for LIPA. Last year the utility received around $20 million from street lighting, compared to a total budget of more than $3.5 billion.
Brookhaven Town is considering changing all its remaining 40,000 bulbs to LEDs in coming months, and wants PSEG to have the correct figures to reduce its bill.
Dan Losquadro, superintendent of highways at Brookhaven Town, called PSEG’s inventory “a smart decision.”
“It can benefit PSEG as provider or the municipality” that may have underreported, he said. Brookhaven has already converted some 4,200 streetlights to LED, and Losquadro said the town is checking if it can recover more funds from PSEG based on dates the lights were installed.
Brookhaven plans to seek bids this summer to change over the remaining 40,000 to LED, with the hope that it makes sense to do the conversion short term, despite the upfront investment. LED lighting costs have declined significantly in the past five years, and “we feel the return on investment is sufficient to change over everything in the short term.”
The change could pay for itself in two years, Losquadro said.