Community Gets a Look at Mock-Up for Gas-To-Electric Streetlight

The Bay Village Historic District Commission held a public meeting to review a mock-up of an electrified gas street-lamp on Monday, March 14, in the area of 212 Stuart St., which could become the city’s standard for its “gas-to-electric streetlight retrofit” throughout the rest of Bay Village, as well as on Beacon Hill and Marlborough Street in the Back Bay. Michael Donaghy, the city’s street lighting and asset manager, told those in attendance that the new electrified streetlamp would emit light in the 2,400 Kelvin range to match the lighting level of existing gas streetlights.

Donaghy added that the light’s new “assembly,” which is controlled using an iPad, could be burned at a higher temperature , including 2,700, 3,000, or 4,000 Kelvins, and that he’d be happy to discuss this option with the community. And while the old gas streetlights have a lifespan of only about two years, the new  electrified ones are expected to last at least seven years and upwards of 10 years, said Donaghy. Citywide, there are now approximately 2,800 natural gas streetlights, which are primarily in Bay Village, Back Bay, and Beacon Hill.

A mock-up of an electrified gaslight installed in the area of 212 Stuart St.

Although only 4 percent of Boston’s approximately 70,000 streetlights are gas lit, they account for 37 precent of emissions from the city, while two gas street-lamps burn as much gas each year as the average Massachusetts home, according to the city. The electrified streetlight was scheduled to be in place on Stuart Street for a week, ending Wednesday, March 16, but Donaghy said he would look into the possibility of keeping it up longer. The city has also committed to scheduling another public meeting to view the mockup, tentatively set for March 30 at 7 p.m., for the benefit of Beacon Hill Civic Association, NABB, and members of the Bay Village Historic District Commission who were unable to attend the March 14 meeting.

(The Beacon Hill Civic Associations’ board of directors meeting was also scheduled for March 14.) In addition to two other gas-lamps adjacent on the roadway adjacent to the Stuart Street mock-up, the city intends to install four more of them around the corner from it, said Donaghy. “Our goal is to replicate what was installed here,” said Donaghy, adding that the Stuart Street design is a Colonial light fixture. “We use this type of burner-assembly throughout the city,” he added. “The goal is to have a sense of consistency.” To install more electrified gaslights, the city would have to go block by block removing the existing gaslines and installing the news electrical system in their place, said Donaghy. While Donaghy wasn’t aware of any other U.S. city that has undertaken such an extensive program to electrify gas streetlights, he said Berlin, Germany, made such a change in an effort involving just as many gas streetlights as Boston has. (Sue Prindle, a long-serving Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay board member and chair of the group’s Architecture Committee, added that London, England, has also made a wide push to electrify its gas streetlights.) Thomas Perkins, president of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association (BVNA) board of directors, said the new lamps would need to look the same as the existing gas streetlights close by, and that the light pattern and diffusion pattern of the new lights would need to be the same as the existing ones.

Moreover, Perkins said that it’s essential that Back Bay and/or Beacon Hill are on board with this plan so Bay Village doesn’t end up getting stuck with a “one-off” streetlight design. Elliott Laffer, chair of NABB’s board of directors, said that the time is right to “get away from gas,” although he urged the city to tackle electrifying its gas streetlights “one block at a time to get it over with.” District 8 City Councilor, who represents Beacon Hill and Back Bay and grew up in Bay Village, said the city has faced a “major supply chain issue” in replacing the gas streetlights during the pandemic in contrast to the much quicker turnaround time for the new electrified ones.

Of the newly unveiled electrified streetlight, Stacia Sheputa, director of communications and community engagement for the Mayor’s Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, said, “I think it’s a really innovative approach and a great way for the city to preserve its historical integrity and help the city towards its goal of becoming carbon neutral.” Greystar, the developer of 212 Stuart St., had originally filed an application for the installation of seven LED streetlamps for consideration at the Bay Village Historic District Commission’s January meeting, but ultimately Greystar withdrew its application amid concerns raised by the BVNA.

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