When it comes to streetlights, a municipality has to think long-term.
The Village of Great Neck, as this goes to press, is close to completing the changeover of 832 streetlight bulbs from high-pressure sodium to light-emitting diode (LED). The current array is at least 25 years old and, according to village officials, had come to the end of its useful life. In fact, the village had stopped replacing sodium lights in anticipation of switching to LEDs, which promise better illumination and lower costs through improved efficiency and longer life.
In addition, each streetlight will be equipped with a smart-control module that’s a part of a Smart Cities pilot program to be financed and managed by the lighting consultants RealTerm Energy.
Village Clerk-Treasurer Joe Gill spoke with the Great Neck Record about the LEDs, and dealt with some of the criticisms of the switch, hoping to put to rest some of the fears expressed by a small group of residents.
The most prominent of these have been Judy Shore Rosenthal and Amy Glass, who drafted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to weigh in on their concerns over the potential use of Smart Cities technology for surveillance purposes. At the Nov. 21 board meeting, the board heard from ACLU Nassau County Director Susan Gottehrer, who reiterated the critics’ charges over the process used to pick the consultants and decide on LEDs, as well as on the “Big Brother” aspect of the new technology.
Gill dismissed the surveillance fears. Any kind of installed camera would be only for red light or traffic control or, even via a smart controls application, for monitoring parking.
“The lighting network does not have the bandwidth to do video,” he pointed out. “It can relay data, but not video. As far as audio, it’s a complete fabrication—and it’s illegal. You can’t record people.”
RealTerm will use the village to test out applications that are expected to come onto the market as the Smart Cities movement gains momentum.
“That’s not to say that we’ll be guinea pigs,” Gill assured. “We’re talking about [applications] that might be helpful to the village. And if we like it, we can keep it.”
As installed, the bulbs will be at 80 percent of full power and, through smart controls, can be dimmed or brightened as determined by circumstances.
“If you look at this as a 25-to-30-year project, it doesn’t make sense for us to spend half a million dollars and not take advantage of the technology,” Gill pointed out.
The smart-control hardware, paid for by the village, will cost about $100,000. Gill said that each smart-control module runs about $100. In the absence of these controls, each pole would have had a photocell (which costs about $25, according to Gill) to determine when the light would go on/off as daylight dictated.
Lights will wirelessly transfer data to neighboring lights and the village will install three gateways to manage this flow of information.
“That data will tell me how much energy each light is using,” Gill said, adding that the village will work closely with PSEG so that ultimately, the utility will bill for the exact energy being used.
Right now, the methodology is imprecise, with PSEG determining how many hours of darkness are in a day and multiplying that amount by the kilowatt of each of the village’s bulbs.
“We’re the first municipality on Long Island to do this with PSEG,” Gill said. “The goal is for PSEG to analyze the data as it comes through the network, and then to certify that it is good enough for billing purposes.”
He added, “The other advantage of the system is that it will tell me exactly where a light is out.” Currently, he said, this relaying of information is imprecise and relies on residents calling it in or town employees spotting a darkened bulb in their travels.
There is no need to man the control system 24/7, Gill pointed out, as it can be programmed to send a daily report for outages.
In addition, the town intends to purchase an app so that public works employees can control the lights in a specified area of operation.
Gill also dismissed the ACLU’s warning about hacks and data breaches.
“What do they mean by that? [Who would] want to hack into a streetlight?” he wondered.
Gill noted that a lot of drivers tend to speed in the village, especially on Middle Neck Road. He conceived of an application that could measure speed at one or more poles and relay a message to a sign that might flash “Slow Down” at the next pole.
“This is not difficult technology,” said Gill. “Maybe we can get counts—how many cars are going by that exceed 40 miles per hour?”
The village’s Clerk-Treasurer also defended RealTerm against those who questioned the firm’s bona fides.
“Some people have taken the position that these are hucksters trying to take advantage of us,” Gill said. “They’re an absolutely reputable firm and they’re not trying to come in and make a quick buck and run off—because then they would not be able to make another buck. RealTerm is not selling us anything. They’re our consultant, our project manager.”
He added, “It does not make sense to me to do a project like this, with over 800 lights, and not bring expertise. You’re talking about a half-million dollar project. You have to have somebody who knows the business, knows the products. You have to have a professional to do the job right.”
Gill went on to note that RealTerm has managed much bigger projects.
“Sure they get their fee, but they work hard for it,” he affirmed. “In fact, they are out there on the street following the installer around for quality control. We’ve done a lot of things to ensure that this project is the best it could be, and provide the best lighting at the best cost.”
Gill is certain the vast majority of village residents back the project and there was a feeling around the town that this changeover was taking too long.
“People say government works slowly, and we do,” said Gill, a longtime civil servant. “But there’s a reason for that. And the reason is, we can’t get it wrong.”
As for those who claimed the village did not do proper vetting, Gill responded that the process “forces you to be careful and take appropriate steps and make sure you get it right.”
The lighting decision, Gill emphasized, was about doing the right thing for the village and its residents.
“The sole purpose is to get to actual billable usage,” Gill said of smart controls. “That makes it worthwhile. The applications are just icing on the cake.”