The city of Independence is planning to keep all of its street lights on next year – for now.

The city of Independence is planning to keep all of its street lights on next year – for now.

During Independence Power & Light’s 2011-12 budget presentation Monday night, city officials clarified an idea that has been mentioned in recent weeks as a cost-savings measure. City staff and the City Council have not made any proposals to shut off street lights in the fiscal year that begins July 1, City Manager Robert Heacock said.

Discussions, however, are continuing to take place, Heacock said.

At last week’s meeting, officials with the local police and fire unions said they had asked the city to turn off half of its street lights for one year to save about $750,000 that the city would be paying the IPL for power used for city services.

The City Council will vote on the proposed budget – which, at this time,  does not include shutting off any street lights – on June 20.  

The Independence Power & Light Department is financed separately from the city’s general fund, which includes the public safety departments, Parks and Recreation and Public Works, among others. Power & Light employees are not required to take the three unpaid furlough days that general fund employees will take, since IPL’s funds and operations did not experience a shortfall, Heacock said.  

IPL’s operating budget next year is more than $105 million, and about 70 percent of those expenses go toward generating the power that is sold to its customers, said IPL Director Leon Daggett.

“This cost is not very flexible, nor do we have much control over it,” Daggett said. “When our citizens want electricity, we have to produce it.”

IPL is closely monitoring its compliance with standards set by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, “which is beginning to have a significant cost to us in several ways,” Daggett said.

Power & Light has devoted three full-time employees to deal with NERC requirements, as well as adding several software programs and upgrading security equipment, Daggett said. The maximum potential fine for noncompliance is $1 million per day per occurrence, Daggett said.

“So, you see how serious it is to us,” he said.

Under IPL’s green initiative, last year’s LED streetlight pilot program received favorable results, Daggett said, and the department has decided to further research a complete switchover of all streetlights from mercury and sodium vapor lights to new LED lights. The LED streetlight pilot program took place as a result of grant funding.

A 5 percent rate increase with IPL will take effect July 1, which was approved and discussed at previous council meetings. District 3 Council Member Myron Paris asked residents to understand that federal guidelines often affect water and electricity utility rates.

“People need to understand that it’s not because we want to do this, but it’s because of the federal standards,” Paris said.   

Power & Light’s aging infrastructure, Heacock said, also presents significant challenges. IPL has implemented a number of green initiatives to help residents and businesses alike save on energy expenses, including the residential and commercial rebate programs.  

“We want people to use what they need,” Daggett said, “but need what they use.”