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Syracuse Poised to Purchase, Convert 17,500 Street Lights to LED

Scott Willis

Syracuse Common Councilors could decide as early as next week whether to borrow 38 million dollars to purchase more than 17,000 street lights from National Grid and convert them to LED.  

The New York Power Authority explained the planning and design process to the council Wednesday.  Councilor Michael Greene says it’s a smart investment that will save the city money.

"The price tag of the $38 million is something that has some sticker shock.  But it's something you can demonstrate to the [credit] rating agencies that we're going to be able to recoup this money."

NYPA Customer Business Development manager Jesse Scott says the LED units use a third to half the energy of existing bulbs, and last up to ten times as long.

"With the inclusion of the purchase of the system, it's a 10-year payback.   If you take out the purchase of the system and look at it as a true energy efficiency retrofit,  it's under a five-year payback.  So, there is substantial energy savings."

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Just some of the 17,507 street lights across the city. These are on Ostrom Ave.

If one light goes out, an automatic e-mail will notify maintenance.  The city could also control the brightness of lights in certain areas through a central hub.  More than 200 municipalities including Rochester and Buffalo are choosing to convert their street lights after the Public Service Commission earlier this year set rules and prices for taking ownership from utilities. 

But Syracuse’s project goes beyond switching to LED’s.  Scott with NYPA says antennas, cameras, and other sensors will also be installed as part of the Smart City deployment to connect the city.

"That includes deploying 4G and 5G small cell towers around the city to generate revenue for the city to take that revenue and invest in other technology.  It will provide broadband service to areas that are currently underserved, as well as explore deploying public Wi-fi."

Councilor Michael Greene likes the idea of the forward-looking project.

"We're looking at what the future of data is going to be, and we're positioning oursselves well to be a leader.  It'll be something that, for example, employers might look at.  If Syracuse has high-speed data, they might want to expand jobs or move to here.  The same goes for residents, when they know they can have access to high-speed data, that will make Syracuse stand out from the crowd."

If approved by councilors Monday, Syracuse would become one of the first fully connected Smart Cities, and the largest in the northeast.  Work to convert the lights and add the Smart Cities hardware and software would begin in February and take six months to complete.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at