AUBURN — The city has begun the process of buying all 1,250 of its public streetlights from Central Maine Power and converting them to LED, a move officials say will cut electricity costs by 85 percent. 

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to enter into an agreement with RealTerm Energy for the project, and spend $81,000 to begin the work.

According to officials, the remaining money needed will be bonded.

City officials estimate a monthly savings of $16,700 once the project is complete. 

LED, or light-emitting diode lighting, has been used increasingly in everyday lighting fixtures because of lower energy consumption and longer life than incandescent lighting. RealTerm Energy, based in Maryland, specializes in LED conversions for municipalities. 

Among the recent projects by the company have been conversions in Wells, Biddeford, South Portland, Falmouth, Rockland and Mount Desert. 

The largest was in Biddeford, where 2,325 fixtures were converted to LED. 

Last year, Rockland, South Portland and Biddeford, and the town of Falmouth submitted a joint request for proposals for companies to convert lighting to LED, and RealTerm was selected. 

According to a memo to the City Council from Auburn Facilities Manager Derek Boulanger, the city’s streetlights are “outdated and inefficient.” 

The conversion would reduce the city’s annual electricity consumption from streetlights by an estimated 61 percent. 

The city spends $233,815 annually on street lighting, but estimates that figure will go down to $34,244 annually after the conversion. 

A representative from RealTerm was in Auburn on Monday with a sample light fixture. The LED technology also allows add-ons such as security cameras and wireless internet, but Mayor Jason Levesque said as of now, the project will consist of a “one-for-one exchange” for converting the lights to LED. 

“If I buy something, I want to touch it,” Levesque said, as councilors passed the fixture around.  

Councilors Leroy Walker and Andrew Titus said they were interested to see how much it would cost to add more lights as part of the project. Walker said as many as 400 have been taken out or shut down, and some should be replaced for safety reasons.

“Every councilor has been asked if we’re going to replace lights,” Walker said. “There’s been many taken out over the last 15 years.” 

Councilor Alfreda Fournier said she’s a “believer” in the need for safer streets, and as part of the process the city should allow the public to weigh in on where the lights will be located.

The first stages of the project will consist of data collection and an audit of the city’s lighting by RealTerm. 

Council supports mayor’s marketing committee

Mayor Levesque’s goal of creating an economic development and branding committee, which he first floated during his inaugural address, was supported by the City Council on Monday.

The purpose of the group, working on a 12-month timeline, is to create a branding campaign for the city with a goal of raising Auburn’s profile in southern Maine.

Levesque announced Monday that he selected Matt Leonard, the former chamber president, to chair the committee, which will be made up of what he calls “the best and brightest” in Auburn. 

Late last month, Levesque told the Sun Journal that the committee would include representatives from the private sector, as well as business people who he described as having a “vested interest” in Auburn, but do not necessarily live in the city. That could mean real estate agents or marketing professionals. 

Levesque worked again Monday to sell the committee as a huge boost for Auburn, and it received near-unanimous praise.

He said since announcing the idea, he’s received “email after email” from people in marketing and tourism. He added that the committee will work in an online methodology, where members can log in and have discussions in almost a “constant meeting,” also featuring public participation. 

Levesque repeated that he hopes the committee’s efforts will let people know “we’re one of the greatest cities in New England.”  

The only councilor to have reservations was Bob Hayes, who said he’s concerned that the committee could be a “duplication of efforts” already happening at the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. 

“Auburn is unique, we’re a separate entity,” Levesque responded. 

The final vote was 6-1, with Hayes abstaining. 

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