When I was young, my curfew was whenever the streetlights came on.
At the time, I was more concerned with wrapping up the street hockey game than wondering who was paying to turn those lights on and send me in for the night. In fact, I'd bet that not many people question who is paying the bill, but it turns out that it's the taxpayers.
Utility companies like National Grid, NSTAR, Northeast Utilities and Western Massachusetts Electric own thousands of unmetered streetlights in Massachusetts. Those lights, lining public roadways, bike paths, and community or state recreational areas are rented by cities and state agencies, bring in millions of dollars in annual profits for utilities. By law, utilities are allowed to rent streetlights to municipalities and state agencies, like the Department of Transportation or Department of Conservation and Recreation, charging annual rent and maintenance fees for each light. But since the late 1990s, legislation has allowed municipalities to buy back the unmetered streetlights from the utilities.
This purchase has already saved over $2 million for cities and towns, including Natick, Woburn, and Chelsea. Yet the law forbids state agencies from making these purchases as well. This leaves the state with no alternative but to rent the lights and pay the higher fees.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, it is my job to monitor how much investment taxpayers may be asked to make on state projects. If this we close this loophole, state agencies like DCR could purchase the more than 6,000 unmetered streetlights they currently rent, saving taxpayers $1.5 million annually from that one state agency alone. Imagine the money that could be saved if all state agencies could do the same.
Money saved from rental costs or unnecessary maintenance of unmetered, outdated streetlights isn't the only benefit. The owners of these lights buy the freedom to make energy efficient choices. For example, many unmetered streetlights have not been updated with the latest green technologies leading to higher energy costs and shorter lifespans, and causing higher maintenance and electric costs.
Newer technology like LED lighting emit higher quality lighting which leads to safer streets and better lit roadways and walkways, longer lifespans which provide lower cost from repair and replacement of bulbs, and allows us to continue to lead the nation in energy efficiency.
Yet this opportunity is not permitted for state agencies, leaving the profits and decision making up to the utility companies they rent from and forcing taxpayers to shoulder the cost of higher rates due to outdated practices and rental costs.
Thankfully, we have the opportunity to close this loophole in the current Environmental Bond Bill, and I would encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting this simple change to save taxpayers millions.
Brian A. Joyce is a state senator who represents the Norfolk, Bristol and Plymouth District.