Yarmouth energy panel finds CMP billed town for non-existent street lights

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YARMOUTH — While collecting data to reduce the costs of street lights, the Yarmouth Energy Savers committee found that Central Maine Power Co. was billing the town for nearly 30 lights that did not exist.

Dan Jellis, town engineer, said most of the billing mistakes were due to duplicate entries on the billing list for the same light, or were older lights that had been replaced with newer ones, but were not removed from the list. In addition, there were street lights identified that the town had not been billed for, he said.

“With all the additions and subtractions, the net change to our bill is about $380 per month,” Jellis said. “CMP made the changes once they confirmed our reductions.”

According to Jellis, CMP has agreed to retroactively pay Yarmouth for the last 10 months for the oversight. He said if CMP finds the dollar amount is significant enough, it will go back six months and retropay for the mistake, Jellis said. He called the company in April with his evidence.

“It has been a time consuming process, but worthwhile,” he said.

John Carroll, spokesman for CMP, said billing mistakes do happen, but the company is in year four of a five year, state-wide street light inventory.

“This situation is not unheard of,” Carroll said. “But we are working to get our records in line.”

He said over time, it is common for fixtures to change and poles to experience damage from storms, fallen trees, and lightening. He also said lights break or are removed, and changes are not properly recorded. But to compensate for the oversight, Carroll said CMP has a policy and process to reconcile those claims. He also said there are some instances when CMP does not charge for lights that are not recorded.

“We’ve seen that towns are looking more closely at their lighting,” Carroll said. “It is a way for them to save money, and it also helps bring an extra level of review.”

The YES committee discussed the street lighting project at its meeting Monday night and was told by Jellis that out of the 664 street lights in town, only 634 are active. One of the goals of YES is to save 10 percent in town costs and kilowatt hours by identifying street lights that are necessary. Due to the findings, the group only needs to reduce or eliminate 30 more lights to reach its goal.

The committee members will continue to investigate neighborhoods to identify unnecessary street lighting over the next few weeks.

In other business, the group has been working to reduce carbon emissions in municipal buildings, educate the community on how to save energy in their homes, and save money by becoming more energy efficient for the past two years.

The committee signed and agreed to meet the Governor’s Carbon Challenge to reduce municipal carbon emissions by 20 percent below 2005 by December of 2010. The group also signed and agreed with the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement to reduce carbon emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 in the town and community.

Chairwoman Marge Titcomb on Monday night said Yarmouth’s municipal buildings have reduced their oil use by 21 percent since December 2008, and they hope to see a reduction in electricity from upgrades that started in 2008.

In addition to the street lighting project, YES is working to implement a no-idling campaign. The group has identified public areas to post the signs – the library, post office, transfer station, school entrances and docks at Littlejohn Island, Cousins Island and Madeline Point – and will soon bring a plan to the Town Council for approval.

Titcomb said there are a number of private places no-idling signs would be helpful, but the public signs should be addressed first.

“This is meant to be educational, informative and a sign of good practice,” she said. “At this time, it is not intended to be a town-wide policy.”

Finally, the committee will host a free, alternative energy forum Thursday, Oct. 8, in the Community Room from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Titcomb said Yarmouth residents and business owners are invited to learn about solar, small wind and geothermal options for heating, air-conditioning, power generation and hot water.

The speaker, Richard Fortier of Efficiency Maine, will explain how the alternative technology works and will review cost-cutting incentives and rebates available through federal and state programs.

While the committee has five members, Titcomb said the monthly meetings are open to the public and participation is encouraged.

“We are looking to add associate members to the group,” she said. “People who can give a few months to help with specific projects, but do not have a three-year term.”

She suggested interested residents who are good with grant writing, who want to help with the street lighting project, or who can help with the no-idling project, join the next meeting, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall Community Room.

“There is a lot to do going forward,” she said, “but it is exciting work.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net