City councillors are mulling over the future of city street lights.
A recent proposal from ATCO would see all the street lights in the city go into the company’s care.
“Acceptance of this proposal will evenly distribute costs over the budget cycle (and) allow us to catch up on a backlog of repairs at a fraction of the estimated costs and action the conversion to LED now rather than later,” said Danielle Whiteway, city chief financial officer at the June 6 Operational Services Committee meeting.
ATCO owns all the street lights within the city, she explained, with two classes – invested and non-invested.
The city is responsible for non-invested lights in regards to energy charges, repairs, installations and end-of-life costs. For invested lights, the city pays ATCO an ongoing rate to keep the lights in good working order.
The city currently has 2,642 invested lights and 4,340 non-invested lights.
Under ATCO’s proposal all city lights would become invested lights, and the city would receive $4.375 million from ATCO.
Once the lights are converted to invested, ATCO would then begin converting the current high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights to LED.
ATCO currently no longer carries HPS lights and when they require repair they are often changed to LED at a cost to the city (on non-invested lights).
A city report says it is currently estimated that there is $1 million in a backlog of repairs needed on streetlights in Grande Prairie.
The report notes the operating budget allocates $70,000 annually for routine maintenance of streetlights but suggests the budget should be $600,000 for non-invested streetlights.
Still, converting the streetlights to invested will increase the city’s annual utility budget. That could be offset using funds received from ATCO after the conversion from non-invested streetlights.
The city’s Operational Services Committee made a recommendation to city council to accept the proposal, which will use $100,000 from the funds received by ATCO to convert 23 private lights, 150 to 400-watt lights, four 1000-watt lights to LED, and use $500,000 to catch up on the backlog streetlight repairs.
Some city councillors expressed their concerns with the proposal.
“I think it’s a lowball, and we’re going to pay more over the cost of the term of this deal,” said coun. Chris Thiessen.
He motioned for the administration to bring back a report with a 25-year cost comparison on the total utility cost increase the city will receive compared to maintenance costs over the same period.
“There’s a lot of numbers in this report and a lot to understand in this offer, and I don’t think we’d be acting fiduciary responsibly without council knowing in the governance role exactly what these numbers entail going forward and the long haul,” said Thiessen.
Whiteway explained that although not presented to council, an analysis found over 25 years it would be cost-neutral for either decision.
Coun. Wade Pilat also expressed concerns about if the city would incur additional charges from ATCO under the proposal if it wanted lights added or removed in certain areas of the city.
A motion was moved to that administration to bring back a report covering the councillors’ concerns.
Thiessen noted the discussion on converting streetlights to invested lights was made in 2017, where council accepted it for information only. He said he didn’t want to rush into a decision before looking over more details.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 22, 2023