NORTH BENNINGTON - The idea of transitioning the village of North Bennington to LED streetlights moved one step closer to reality on Tuesday.

Bennington College professor Susan Sgorbati and her class presented the findings of their streetlight survey to the North Bennington Board of Trustees at their monthly meeting. The class found that the total cost of switching the lights would be $2,644.19.

However, Efficiency Vermont, a non-profit organization created by the Vermont State Legislature in 1999, offers communities up to $100 per light fixture to switch to the more energy-efficient LED lights. North Bennington's lights are valued at $24.48 per fixture, meaning that Efficiency Vermont will cover the entire bill. Efficiency Vermont is funded by an "energy efficiency" charge on residents' electric bills. The board estimated that this charge was no more than a few cents per person. According to Efficiency Vermont's website, before 1999 these charges still existed, but were included in overall utility bills and were not itemized.

Savings of 72 percent

A report from Efficiency Vermont estimates that the switch will reduce North Bennington's kilowatt-hours from 71,398 per year to 19,868, a savings of 72 percent. Additionally, the village would reduce their carbon emissions by 60,531 pounds each year. The report estimates this will equal $6,167 in savings for the town each year.

Sgorbati's 22-person class is titled "Solving the Impossible: Intractable Conflicts." They were looking for a project to help them get more involved in the community, and reached out to Board of Trustees member David Monks, who suggested looking into the possibility of switching North Bennington over to LED streetlights, as Bennington had done recently.

"In order for us to apply for these grants, a study had to be done," said Board Chairman Matthew Patterson, "so it was perfect [that Sgorbati approached the board]." The students worked with Green Mountain Power, the company that provides electricity to North Bennington, and the Bennington County Regional Commission to get maps and lists of all the streetlights in the village, which they then cross-referenced, verified, and inventoried.

After they completed their audit of the streetlights, they made house calls and interviewed approximately 50 residents about their thoughts regarding switching to LED streetlights. The response, according the Sgorbati, was overwhelmingly positive. Most of the residents' concerns centered on the color of the new lights and how the much the light would spill into their homes. Sgorbati addressed those concerns at the meeting, saying currently the streetlights in Bennington are blue, orange, and white. All the LED bulbs will be white, making the town's streetlights more uniform. In addition, said Sgorbati, LEDs are brighter, but more focused than traditional streetlights, so the amount of spill should actually be lessened.

Sgorbati also suggested that the town could become even more efficient by looking into removing some lights that citizens reported to be superfluous, as well as contacting Green Mountain Power regarding a handful of streetlights her students found were on 24 hours a day. She also reported that GMP would be willing to turn off some streetlights, at the request of the village, for a one-month "trial period," after which the village could seek feedback from residents on whether the lights are needed.

Monks suggested that now that Sgorbati and her class have worked out a process for doing the streetlight inventory, perhaps their work could be forwarded to other communities in the state, who could use local high school students to start their own versions of the project. Monks said that he believes transitioning to LED streetlights could potentially benefit towns all across the state.

The board voted unanimously to pursue the project, barring any unexpected costs to the village. Monks said that he hoped some of Sgorbati's students would be staying in town for a few more semesters, so they could see the results of their work.

In an email, Sgorbati said that, "The students worked really hard on this project, and they are so excited that the Village Trustees passed a resolution to move forward with this work."

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