SHAMOKIN - The city planning commission is expecting to receive a proposal from General Electric for a new lighting system in the downtown area.

It will be compared to options through PPL Electric and another vendor, Spring City. Upon evaluation, a recommendation is expected to be made next month by the five-person commission to the city council and mayor who together will make the final decision.

The commission is exploring the potential of acquiring LED lighting, said to be an energy-efficient alternative to the high-pressure sodium (HPS) system currently in place.

Decorative lamps and poles are also sought to enhance the appearance of the downtown.

The street lights on Independence Street have frequently malfunctioned, depending on who you ask, since October or for the past several years.

Although cost is a concern, given that the current PPL-owned system is upwards of 50 years old, timing is in play since the next upgrade may not come for another five decades.

Lowering costs

Replacement of the 47 downtown lights was originally slated for 2014, but the project was moved up to this year because of the continuing malfunctions. It had been speculated that replacement could begin as early as June, but that is not going to happen.

The utility offered to use the same HPS technology, same light fixtures and same poles, and had begun planning the replacement after meeting with city officials in February.

The cost of PPL's offer would be covered by a monthly tariff already paid by the city on each of its 664 street lamps. The tariff varies by the type of pole and the amount of energy used and ranges from $11 to $38 per pole.

Shamokin pays on average $11,200 a month for its street lights. The electric portion is $1,200, which was lowered about two years ago after the city switched providers to Constellation Energy.

The bulk of the monthly bill is paid to PPL in distribution charges, which includes the lease of lighting equipment, delivery of electricity and maintenance. It also includes the per-pole tariff.

The commission had sought a study from PPL on the lighting system - cost, efficiency, pole height, etc. - to assist in its decision, but was rebuffed. They hoped to learn if by using LED bulbs on a lower mount, say 20 feet compared to 30 feet or higher, fewer lamps would be needed, not only lowering energy costs but also reducing the distribution charge.

"We don't want to hold a project up, but we want what we feel the City of Shamokin is entitled to. They had these lights in 40 to 50 years, all of a sudden there's this urgency," said Jeff Fromm, planning commission chairman.

"We have an opportunity here that's not going to happen for 40 years. The taxpayers are going to keep paying for this for 40 years if we don't take advantage" and lower the distribution charge, Fromm said. "We want to do this for the community. If we are successful, we did something good."

'Offer stands'

PPL didn't prepare a study because "all indications over time show the original Independence Street design has met your needs," according to a PPL letter sent to City Hall. If the city pursued a different PPL-supplied system, PPL would prepare a formal quote and light study.

PPL also was under the impression following the February meeting that the city and PPL were in agreement that the system would be replaced with the same technology.

Teri MacBride, regional affairs director, PPL Susquehanna Valley, said there's no timeline to complete the work, but said the desire is to complete is "as soon as possible."

"We want to upgrade that system, so that offer stands. The city needs to decide if they're going to take us up on that offer or put in a different system," she said. "We offered to accelerate the project, but we haven't given any deadlines."

Should the city ultimately decide to purchase equipment outside PPL's portfolio, PPL would remove the current equipment. The utility would supply power to either end of the system on Independence Street, but everything in between, including maintenance, would be the city's responsibility, MacBride said.

LED options

Federal studies on the lighting performance of LED versus HPS vary, with some LED systems saving between 50 percent and 70 percent while others offer no discernible difference, and many variables factor into the performance.

The borough of Tarentum in Allegheny County saves $40,000 annually, or 66 percent, after replacing 435 HPS fixtures with GE's LED bulbs. However, the borough already owned its own system and the large-scale purchase created a larger savings pool compared to what Shamokin is considering.

The commission is exploring if estimated savings in energy costs through LED technology would be enough to finance the purchase of the equipment.

"As a city, wouldn't we want to look at the most efficient lighting system available?" Deb Yeager, branch manager of Susquehanna Bank on Independence Street and de facto representative of downtown merchants, asked during a commission meeting Monday.

GE offers decorative LED systems with dimmable bulbs designed to save on energy in the early morning hours. Installation of the entire system would be an additional cost, as would maintenance, because GE offers neither service.

PPL also offers decorative systems but only offers HPS bulbs. The city would be responsible for the additional costs to purchase and install through PPL decorative lighting.

MacBride said that while PPL is exploring LED options, it hasn't yet found a system it's willing to add. It stands behind HPS bulbs, which she said have proven to be reliable.

Whichever system is chosen, commission members reiterated a point made during last month's meeting that the new street poles must be tall enough and include outlets to accommodate Christmas decorations and the like.