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Solar lamps will switch to electric

There's a light at the end of the tunnel in Cheektowaga starting next month, and it's electric, not solar.

That's when the conversion from solar street lights to electric lights will start.

"That's good news," said Ken Sponholz of Gary Lane.

He is one of several residents who spoke out after the solar lights were installed as part of a pilot program in 2003. Neighbors complained the lights were unsightly and not very bright. They also were not reliable without sunlight, and some of them stopped working for a time during a stretch of sunless days in December 2005 and January 2006.

The town is financing the energy performance contract with Johnson Controls through Real Lease. Originally, the town was guaranteed $8.9 million in energy savings over 15 years by going to solar lights and making a number of other changes in town facilities and energy use.

Town Attorney Kevin Schenk said the new contract guarantees $9.2 million in savings. It also will cost the town an extra $1 million for the conversion to electric lights.

Cheektowaga had withheld $495,000 in payments when the problems with solar lights arose. The new contract is for $1.56 million. After subtracting the $495,000, the town will pay $1.06 million over 10 months for the electric conversion.

The town had planned to replace 498 gas-powered lights on 40 streets with the solar lights as part of an energy performance contract with Johnson Controls. After residents complained in December 2004, the town halted the program. Then it negotiated with Johnson Controls over removing the solar lights and the remaining gas lights and replacing them with electric lights.

Town officials were tight-lipped during the negotiations, and residents quizzed Town Board members at public board meetings several times over the years.

Supervisor James J. Jankowiak said he signed the amendments to the contract allowing for the changeover Wednesday.

"By September or maybe October, we should be out of solar lights or into electric," he said.

Johnson Controls will install up to 330 electric lights under the contract. Most of the easements necessary for the work have been obtained from property owners, the supervisor said.

"Solar would have been a good idea if it had worked," Schenk said.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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