Streetlights Bill Signed Into Law

ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Cities and towns have a new way to save money while reducing their carbon footprint. On Tuesday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed legislation (S836 and H5935), known as the “streetlights bill,” allowing municipalities to buy streetlights from National Grid.

The price is determined based on the streetlight cost minus depreciation.

The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which sets the price of lighting maintenance and power costs, would approve a new cost or tariff without National Grid’s service cost and with different rates for different types of lighting, such as more efficient lights like LEDs. Currently, the tariff includes only one rate designed for traditional lighting, so there is no incentive for the use of more efficient lighting.

Massachusetts and Connecticut have passed similar laws. In Massachusetts, the 70 or so cities and towns that have purchased their streetlights are saving between 15 percent and 70 percent on their streetlight expenses, according to the Washington County Regional Planning Council.

National Grid testified in favor of the legislation, saying the change allows it to shed its streetlight maintenance work and focus on its primary responsibility of delivering power to its customers.

The bill, however, was delayed in the final weeks of the General Assembly to address union and safety concerns.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, and Sen. James Sheehan, D-North Kingstown.

"Developing this legislation took a lot of work by a small group of highly talented Rhode Islanders who see the big picture and are willing to tackle important issues," said Jeff Broadhead, director of the Washington County Regional Planning Council. Broadhead has pushed for the streetlights legislation for several years so communities in Washington County can move forward with energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects.

"Streetlights seem almost invisible as you drive around," Broadhead said. "They are part of our landscape. But when you add up the budgets of Rhode Island's cities and towns, the bill for this lighting exceeds $15 million each year. We believe that by redesigning the way this service is provided that bill can be reduced by $2 to $4 million per year."

Significant work remains, such as getting the state Office of Energy Resources and National Grid to calculate a new tariff, then have it approved by the PUC.