Athol streetlight conversion, part of energy cost reduction strategy, is complete

  • Athol Town Hall. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 11/20/2020 3:49:25 PM
Modified: 11/20/2020 3:49:12 PM

ATHOL — The conversion of streetlights from incandescent to energy-efficient LED lighting in Athol has been completed. Town Manager Shaun Suhoski recently spoke to the Athol Daily News about the project.

“We’re down to, really, just punch list items,” he said, “and completing quality control on the installation. Over 800 overhead fixtures were replaced over the past several months.

“This was a good project for public safety, in terms of the lighting of the community. It improves the lighting at the street level and, yet, reduces the glare into neighboring properties and into the sky.”

The move is also justified financially, according to Suhoski.

“Energy savings are projected to be very substantial in terms of energy usage, which is good for the environment, but it’s also good in terms of savings.

“We did an investment-grade audit prior to implementing the program, and the payback for this project — and we’re still awaiting the final costs, including change orders — just in rough round numbers, say, it was $320,000. This project will pay itself back in just over two years.

“So, the 20-year net savings — I should call it reduction or cost avoidance — to the town will be just north of $2.7 million over the next 20 years. That’s just by changing out to modern technology.”

Suhoski said the retrofitting was begun after first checking on similar projects in other communities.

“We’re not on the forefront,” he explained. “Many communities had already done it. I know Winchendon has. Templeton has their own municipal light plant. And we actually toured those towns and sought input as to the fixtures they used in each of those town before determining our project.”

Unlike Winchendon, however, Athol’s changeover was not done as part of an effort to get all of the streetlights in town turned back on. Winchendon at one point had extinguished nearly half of its streetlights, then utilizing incandescent lighting, as a cost-saving measure. When the conversion was complete, all streetlights were again illuminated.

“Years ago, there were some times of struggle in this community for the people and for the town itself, the municipal corporation itself,” said Suhoski. “In Athol, we had 805 streetlights on our final inventory, and they were on. But it was costing us $150,000 a year to keep them on.

“This is part of a five-year effort that includes the solar field in Hardwick, net metering credits, Green Communities grants to reduce consumption, a solar facility on top of the library when that was expanded — which has paid great dividends in reducing the bill for Town Hall and the library, as well as competitively bidding through an energy broker our supply contract and achieving really positive rates.”

Suhoski said the new supply contract went into effect in August.

“We got a modest reduction in price — under 9 cents (per kilowatt hour), which is a very competitive price for electricity. And it provides stability because we know those rates are going to be for the next three years.”

Suhoski said the town was joined on the new energy contract by the Athol Royalston Regional School Disrict.

“So, the streetlights are just another piece of that. It’s something that we wanted to do for safety reasons. It was Selectman (Lee) Chauvette’s pet project; he did bring it up and he held our feet to the fire.

“But we wanted to do it right. We wanted to get the right fixtures. We partnered with Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, which did a group procurement with, I believe, eight different cities and towns.”

Suhoski said that $320,000 is the final action cost, while the estimated project cost initially was $311,000. The net project cost was $207,000, with the reduction resulting from a state grant and utility incentives. A three-year, tax exempt municipal bond was used to cover that cost.

“We can pay for the project from the savings in electrical use,” Suhoski concluded. “The taxpayers will see the benefit in the third fiscal year following. So, it’s really a win for everybody.”

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