The City Council on Jan. 2 backed an Energy and Climate Committee proposal to buy all of the streetlights in Belfast from Central Maine Power and convert them to energy-saving LEDs.

Today, the city pays $7,000 a month to Central Maine Power for the light provided by 575 streetlights, according to City Planner Sadie Lloyd Mudge, who said a number of municipalities have bought and replaced their streetlights and seen relatively quick returns on the investment, owing to the efficiency of LEDs.

She cited South Portland, which spent a little more than $1.8 million to buy and convert 1,826 street lights from CMP. The city got $14,000 in rebates from Efficiency Maine, installed smart controls on the new lights and went out to bid for a maintenance contract. The conversion was paid off in just over 5 1/2 years, which Lloyd Mudge wrote in a report to the City Council is "significantly shorter than" the three solar electric installations the city has installed in recent years.

The project was estimated to cut energy use of streetlights by 70 percent and the annual cost of street lights by 80 percent, Lloyd Mudge said. As owners of the lights, she said, the city could choose the color temperature of the bulbs and install fixtures with fully recessed bulbs that are less likely to shine into windows of nearby houses.

The council authorized Lloyd Mudge to go to bid for a proposal to buy out the 575 CMP lights and replace them with LED fixtures. The council also authorized Lloyd Mudge to update heat pump quotes for the Police Station and hire an electrical engineer to do an energy audit of the Police Station and City Hall, drawing from an energy savings capital reserve account.

New solar farm goes online

This month, the city quietly flipped the switch on its largest solar power farm, a 660-kilowatt installation at the city's new Public Works facility currently under construction on Crocker Road.

Belfast has two other solar electric installations, on the roof of the fire department and at an old dump on Pitcher Road. Together, they offset 90 percent of electricity use in city government buildings.