WINDHAM — A public outcry over a proposal to shut down about 100 streetlights has Windham officials rethinking a plan to reduce the town’s energy use.
Since signs went up in October on the posts of streetlights targeted for removal, residents have been vocal with their concerns about crime and car accidents and have called for another way to cut back on electricity.
The same conversation has come up in several area communities and others across the country, especially after the recession hit, when shutting off streetlights gained popularity as a cost-saving measure.
The issue has pitted public safety against the environment and reducing the tax-rate against preserving the quality of life.
A couple of years ago, the city of Portland removed about 320 lights to save around $150,000, said Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky.
He said that the city’s approach – to reduce lighting along major corridors, rather than in neighborhoods – helped keep the potential public backlash at bay.
When the issue came up in Falmouth, however, residents concerned about safety kept any lights from coming down.
“The cost savings itself just didn’t reconcile with the value that they saw,” said Town Manager Nathan Poore.
Comments by councilors at a recent meeting made it seem likely that the proposal in Windham would go the same way.
“It’s not going to happen,” said Council Chairman Tommy Gleason about lights being shut off.
The proposal to remove lights came after the council in June adopted a new streetlight policy that would allow lights only at intersections, in areas with pedestrian traffic and at dangerous spots in roadways.
The town’s Energy Advisory Committee, which came up with the new policy, then identified lights that didn’t comply.
Councilors Donna Chapman and Bob Muir, who were elected in November after the policy was enacted, said they wouldn’t support removing any existing lights.
“I want to scrap the whole idea,” said Muir.
Residents have said they’d rather make the town’s streetlights more efficient and suggested replacing them with diode bulbs.
Assistant Town Planner Ben Smith said that’s an expensive option that the energy committee wasn’t considering when it created the policy but would start looking into. He said replacing existing bulbs with LED ones would cost about $350 per light.
In addition, Central Maine Power Co., which leases the light fixtures to the town of Windham, charges about twice as much more per month – $18.59 versus $9.81 – for LED lights over standard ones, said spokeswoman Gail Rice.
“LEDs use less energy, so any savings would be on the energy portion of the customer’s bill,” she said.
A new law, however, allows municipalities to purchase the lights and install them on CMP’s poles, so they don’t have to pay to lease the fixtures.
Smith said that’s something the town could consider and would be “much more cost-effective” than leasing LED lights from CMP.
The Energy Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Windham town offices.
Smith said that after last week’s meeting, he wasn’t sure what direction the board would take.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: