The Town of Tonawanda plans to buy 6,050 streetlights throughout the town from National Grid and convert them to energy-efficient LED lights.
This project also would see the town add new LED fixtures on utility poles along a stretch of Niagara Falls Boulevard where six pedestrians have died in traffic accidents over the past half-dozen years.
Tonawanda officials say buying the streetlights and converting them to LED lights will offer the town significant savings over time. And they say the work along the boulevard, coupled with a similar investment the Town of Amherst has made on its side of the boulevard, will make it safer for people trying to cross at night.
"It's time for change and we are changing it," Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said in his recent State of the Town address.
On the Tonawanda side, both the Town Board and National Grid have agreed to the sale. The state Public Service Commission must approve the transfer and the town is working through the New York Power Authority to arrange the financing, Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger said.
State approval could come in four to six months, he said. The full conversion would take a year to 18 months.
Tonawanda would buy all of the streetlights in the town – including the poles and light fixtures – from the power company.
Currently, the town pays about $2.2 million to National Grid each year, said Town Engineer Matthew Sutton. About 25% of that cost is the energy used to light the poles, but most of it is a facilities charge that covers what it costs National Grid to operate and maintain this streetlight network, Sutton said.
If the sale is approved, the town will be responsible for maintaining the lights and the facilities charge will drop substantially, Sutton said. The new LED lights also should require less electricity, he said.
"It's going to save us money, right from the first year we do this operation, even with the debt service," Emminger said.
The town would have to pay off the roughly $12 million debt it's taking on to buy the lighting network and the further, so-far-unknown cost to install the new fixtures. The most significant savings will come after 10 years or so, when the town's annual lighting costs should fall to about $1 million, Sutton said.
The new LED light system should be easier to service because it will include a feature that sends an alert when one light, or a series of lights, is out, Sutton said. Now, National Grid typically relies on a complaint to alert them to a light being out, he said.
"We're trying to provide a better service," Sutton said.
National Grid will continue to own its utility poles in Tonawanda but the town in some cases will pay to install new arms and lights on those poles, he said.
That's what will happen on Niagara Falls Boulevard. Emminger said the town will start its LED light installation on the section of Niagara Falls Boulevard running north from the Interstate 290 exit. Tonawanda will install 46 light fixtures on existing utility poles and put in place three new poles with lights along the road.
Amherst last year began installing about 100 new streetlights on its side of the boulevard. Kulpa said at his State of the Town address that about 50 have been energized and more than 40 are left to do.
Additional lighting was one of the main recommendations of a 2018 study produced by the towns of Amherst and Tonawanda looking at safety issues along the boulevard. The state Department of Transportation released its own report last year with a number of recommendations that included a partial speed limit reduction and physical changes that make it easier for pedestrians to cross.