Friday, June 26, 2009

Towns swap streetlighting for stars to save money

In an effort to cut down on taxes and revive the childhood inspiration of dazzling night skies, some rural towns in Rhode Island are shedding streetights. Town officials hope cutting back on the lamps will save thousands of tax dollars while re-establishing the rural character of such places, Ethan Shorey reports for The Valley Breeze in Cumberland, R.I.

In North Smithfield, pop. 11,294, the view of the night sky once featured whole constellations, but widespread use of electricity created decreased visibility from what astronomers call the “bounceback effect” of light pollution. But faced with increasing taxes and a tight economy, the motivation for decreasing electricity usage has gotten town planner Robert Ericson and administrator Paulette Hamilton to be creative. "Our town spends $160,000 per year on street lighting," Hamilton and Ericson told Shorey. "By limiting use to village commercial intersections, we can minimize light pollution and energy consumption, restoring rural character and leading the way as a green community."

Other Rhode Island towns are following North Smithfield’s lead and incorporating utility cuts. In Woonsocket, a plan was approved Monday to shut off certain lights from 3 to 6 a.m. – shaving 25 percent from the annual $448,000 electricity bill. Some areas will continue to have light because of safety concerns, but Hamilton says changes like this will make small towns more competitive in environmentally sound practices, and told Shorey that "This is just another step to becoming a green community.” (Read more)

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