Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker updated councilors on Feb. 11 about the results of an Investment Grade Audit report concerning the potential conversion of Caribou street lights to more efficient and less expensive LED.
Marker said the IGA report indicates that the city currently pays about $127,000 annually for its street lights, but that current Emera rate structures show those costs could be cut down to $28,290 following a complete transition to LED.
The cost for Caribou to buy the lights from Emera and convert them to LED, according to Marker, is estimated at roughly $304,000, which he said would be paid off through the energy cost savings in just three years.
The city manager clarified that additional review of the report and supporting information is still needed to make an accurate assessment, and that he plans to discuss this project with other municipalities that have converted to LED lights.
Caribou Mayor Mark Goughan said the plan seems “too good to be true,” as it would provide Caribou with a “33 percent return.”
“This kind of return is not uncommon with new lighting tech,” councilor Hugh Kirkpatrick said.
Councilors began to seriously pursue this conversion when they approved a study by Maine-based Real Term Energy on Dec. 11, 2017, to provide a clearer image of the costs associated with purchasing and converting the 618 sodium light bulbs throughout Caribou.
Councilor Jody Smith asked about a cost comparison of having city employees convert the lights versus an outside entity, and Marker said he plans on obtaining more information about this possibility.
“To purchase the lights themselves would only cost the city about $13,000,” the town manager said. “The cost to change out the lights, and if the city wants to tackle that themselves, has yet to be determined by the council.”
Councilor Joan Theriault asked if there was any potential for a rebate, and Marker said there is some potential from Efficiency Maine. On a smaller scale, Theriault said the city’s decision to recently convert to LED lights in a local park has “cut our light bill by two thirds,” adding that the electric company actually sent someone to investigate because the costs were so low.
Marker said there also was a question about whether municipal lights that had been turned off in the past to save energy costs would now be reactivated as part of the project.
“All indications are that all lights will be converted to LED and turned back on,” the town manager said.
Goughan showed enthusiasm for the project, reiterating that the cost savings seems “too good to be true.”
“I hope that, as a council, we make this a priority,” he said, “and that we dig into this and see what all of our options are.”
This story was originally published in The County.