NORTH BENNINGTON -- A Bennington College class is exploring the option of installing LED streetlights in the village of North Bennington, all in the name of reducing energy consumption.

‘Solving the Impossible'

Susan Sgorbati's 22-student class, "Solving the Impossible: Intractable Conflicts," is based on tackling complex problems that can be extremely difficult to deal with. According to Bennington College's course listing, the course, which is part of the college's Center for the Advancement of Public Action, "is about the challenge of solving conflicts that are firmly entrenched with little hope for change. Often these conflicts repeat a pattern of violence between groups that hold fixed positions and beliefs."

The project began as a response to President Obama's climate action plan, which was released earlier this year. The class worked with the Boston branch of the Environmental Protection Agency to learn more about the topic of sustainability and strategies that can be used to promote it.

"The students wanted to do a local action project," said Sgorbati, "Something related to energy reduction." Sgorbati reached out to North Bennington Board of Trustees member David Monks, who recommended the students look into the possibility of installing LED streetlights in the village. Bennington and Rutland have recently made the transition to LED streetlights.

"LEDs not only reduce energy consumption for the Town [sic] of North Bennington, but also reduce the cost by two-thirds. In addition, LED bulbs do not use harmful chemicals like mercury or lead. LED lights also have a higher light output at lower temperature, more accurate color reading, do not attract as many bugs, and have lower maintenance costs," says a flyer released by the class.

According to Monks, the village didn't have the personnel necessary to do an inventory of all the current streetlights in the town, so he suggested that be where the students begin their research. The class contacted Green Mountain Power, which was extremely cooperative and helpful with the project, and got a map of the locations of the streetlights in the village from the Bennington Regional Planning Commission.

The students split up to cover more ground, and inventoried all of the streetlights in the village. The results of their inventory will be released after they have made a report to the Board of Trustees.

The class visited several homes and businesses to survey residents about the switch to LEDs. "While we couldn't visit everyone in the village, of course," said Sgorbati, "We feel that we have a good random sample of the population." While the class will meet on Friday to discuss their findings, students who have already reported in said responses were outstandingly positive.

"Some people did raise concerns, such as whether the light would penetrate more into their homes or businesses, and the color of the light, but most people were very supportive of the project." The lights would be white, said Sgorbati, and have a more focused range of penetration, so they shouldn't light homes any more than the current streetlights.

Her students have learned much from the project, said Sgorbati, including learning about the local community and how to become more involved, how to talk with community members about issues like sustainability, how to read data and match lists with reality, and, of course, about sustainability itself. Sgorbati also joked that because the community was so open and supportive of the project, it hardly seemed like "solving the impossible."

The next steps for the class involve compiling all the data they've collected into a report, which they will submit to the Board at either their December or January meetings.

The class also worked extensively with Efficiency Vermont, an organization that, according to its website, "provides technical assistance, rebates, and other financial incentives to help Vermont households and businesses reduce their energy costs with energy-efficient equipment, lighting, and approaches to construction and major renovation." Efficiency Vermont recently provided funding to enable Rutland to change its 1,274 streetlights over to LEDs, a project which the Rutland estimates will save the town $90,000 in operating costs annually.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB