By Ian Oberg
Mason Times staff writer
To comply with the Federal Energy Act of 2005, Mason must replace its streetlights, but the cost to residents has the city considering other options. The purpose of replacing the lights is to conserve energy and help the environment.
“It is predominantly to reduce energy use, but also to stop using mercury,” said City Administrator Marty Colburn.“Mercury has a way of finding its way into the landfills and into the aquifer, which can pollute the water.”
This transition to a more environmentally friendly Mason won’t occur free of charge.
“It’s our understanding of the federal law that Consumers Energy could ask the municipalities to share in those costs, but they’re going to go ahead and put forth the initial cost,” Colburn said.
Consumers Energy may have decided that the municipalities will not have to pay for the replacement, but someone will have to foot the bill.
Dennis Berkebile, Consumers Energy’s Area Manager for southwest Michigan said “even though the streetlight program says that the customers will have a share in the replacement cost, the corporation made the decision that they will make the replacements to mercury vapor lights at no cost to the local cities. It was a corporate decision to do that.”
City staff will be working with Consumers Energy on conducting a street light inventory for the city. This inventory will list the number and types of lights and light poles, as well as how they are being billed. This will allow for more accurate calculations of the cost.
These costs, as well as rising rates for electricity, have city staff considering ways to reduce the cost to residents. Suggestions have been proposed to reduce the hours lights are used, or to possibly remove all street lights throughout the city. However, removing all street lights throughout the city may not be as drastic an alternative to replacement as it seems.
“If you are doing something that is energy saving, there’s basically a “no-harm” clause to them,” Colburn said. “Which means there is not a direct correlation of best practices and it impacting your rates.”
“We want everybody to do good practices, but ultimately, if we still do it and then they just charge us more because we’re using less, so that they can keep running their operation, what is the public good in that sense?” Colburn asked. “Yes, we may see some savings, but not a direct correlation to the use of the kilowatts versus a direct correlation to the constant savings, and that’s frustrating.”
It is unclear at this point how an alternative such as removing all of the streetlights would affect the city and its residents, but it is clear that whatever decision is made, it will benefit the environment.
“If they take the street lights out of the city, that would certainly be a concern for me,” said Mason resident Ingrid Nova. “But, overall, I think it’s great that the city and Consumers Energy are taking the initiative to try to look toward the environment and think ahead to what would be best down the road.”