Sunday's column was about Baltimore's desire to save money and conserve energy by installing light-emitting diodes in its streetlamps and what looks like Baltimore Gas & Electric's attempt to block it on spurious grounds of safety. The column quoted Jamie Kendrick, the city's deputy director of transportation, as saying the city pays BGE $20 million a year total for streetlights and $12 million for maintenance.
The city wants to cut maintenance costs by changing its own bulbs -- needed far less often with LEDs -- and doing other routine maintenance. BGE says that that's too dangerous and that only BGE can do the work unless the city puts in expensive circuit breakers that Baltimore says are a dealbreaker.
BGE disputes the city's cost figures but didn't get back to me on them until after the column was published. Here's part of the reponse from BGE senior vice president Jeannette Mills (I'll publish the whole thing after the jump):
Published reports indicate the city pays BGE $20 million annually for streetlights, of which $12 million is in maintenance fees. This is absolutely incorrect. The City’s total annual BGE bill for streetlights is half that number, and only includes $1.4 in maintenance costs for those 43,000 streetlights.
No way, says the city, although now it says the $20 million annual streetlight bill includes money paid to Pepco, not BGE. But it says it stands by the $12 million paid to BGE for streetlight maintenance, which "includes on-demand maintenance, inspection, cleaning, renewal fees and $6.6 million in equipment rental fees," according to a prepared statement from DOT spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes. "This equipment rental fee, which according to the tariff primarily pays for the maintenance of BGE owned fixtures."
Part of this is an argument about defining maintenance. Equipment leasing isn't maintenance, says BGE spokesman Rob Gould, and he's right. Part of the argument may be about whether you're talking about costs for all 70,000 of the city's streetlights or just the 43,000 that the city owns. City officials talk about eventually installing LEDs in all 70,000 lights, even the ones owned by BGE.
In any case the larger question remains: How come BGE won't let Baltimore maintain its own streetlights without the expensive circuit breakers when other cities are already doing it?
Here is the response from BGE's Jeannette Mills:
In response to your column of May 22, BGE would like to set the record straight.
BGE is committed to helping all of our customers — large and small — reduce energy usage and lower their energy bills. In fact, BGE has been a steadfast partner with the City of Baltimore in helping it and its citizens accomplish both. More recently, BGE has been working with the City and the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to identify ways the City can reduce its energy bill
without compromising safety or electric reliability. The safety of our customers and employees as well as the reliability of our service are our top priorities and cannot be sacrificed.
Today, 43,000 streetlights are owned by Baltimore City but maintained by BGE. The City would like to reduce costs by assuming the maintenance of these lights. BGE supports this idea. However, published reports indicate the City pays BGE $20 million annually, of which $12 million is in maintenance fees. This is absolutely incorrect. The City’s total annual BGE bill for streetlights is half that number, and only includes $1.4 in maintenance costs for those 43,000 streetlights. The remainder covers the costs for the actual supply of electricity, cable, equipment and other facilities. That said, BGE is fully committed to helping the city find new ways to reduce these costs, but not at the expense of safety.
The City’s current proposal would expose city employees or contractors to live BGE wires during certain types of maintenance. This is both hazardous to workers and could cause costly damage to BGE’s electric infrastructure. BGE’s tariff – the PSC-approved terms and conditions of street lighting service - specifically requires that an appropriate separation between BGE’s equipment and the customer’s equipment be installed if the customer is going to maintain the streetlights. The current proposal under consideration fails to meet that standard.
While BGE contractors who currently perform this type of maintenance are also exposed to live BGE wires, these highly skilled professionals are hired and trained specifically to work on BGE equipment in accordance with BGE’s stringent work practices. Much like a private electrician doesn’t have the authority and may not have the skills to work on BGE’s equipment, it would be inappropriate for contractors hired by the City to perform work on BGE’s equipment.
Separate and apart from the issue of streetlight maintenance, the City also wants to replace current streetlights with energy efficient light emitting diodes (LEDs). Again, BGE supports this idea. However, there are currently no provisions within BGE’s tariff that permit LED street lights or set appropriate usage rates that would be charged. BGE is currently testing LED street lights to confirm energy consumption claims and hopes to work with the PSC to help determine appropriate rates and standards. BGE is more than willing to work with the City to install LED street lights. However, to date, the City has not officially made this request of BGE. That said, the City’s request to assume the maintenance responsibility for street lights is independent of the City pursuing LED street lights.
BGE is committed to promoting energy efficiency and helping our customers lower their energy usage in support of EmPOWER Maryland’s goal of a 15 percent per capita reduction in energy consumption by 2015. And, BGE’s track record is clear in this area. Since 2008, BGE has helped its customers achieve an overall energy savings of more than 550 million kilowatt hours, equivalent to eliminating the carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity use of nearly 46,000 homes.
BGE commends the City of Baltimore for its efforts to reduce energy costs and enhance energy efficiency and BGE will continue to work with the City in that effort.