PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza formally launched a plan Friday to convert the city’s streetlights to light-emitting diode fixtures, or LEDs.
The mayor got together with the Partnership for RI Streetlights Management (PRISM) to make the announcement and install the first light on Broad Street.
In converting nearly 17,000 streetlights to LED cobra heads, Elorza said the city will save $3 million per year in electricity and maintenance costs.
The City Council approved a plan back in January to borrow $13 million to finance the project.
Elorza said the lights aren’t just brighter, they’re also smarter – automatically alerting city officials to outages.
However, the lights are not capable of conducting wi-fi or high-bandwidth video.
“That kind of system is available,” said PRISM Executive Director Jeff Broadhead. “It’s a much higher cost, both in terms of its initial investment and operationally, and so Providence wouldn’t have the savings if it were to go that way.”
Broadhead said the high-tech lights could be used for things such as traffic cameras.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is raising concern about the potential for new surveillance, calling for an ordinance to ban such practices. Policy associate Hillary Davis released a statement to Eyewitness News on Friday.
“Touted as cost-saving and environmentally-conscious, Providence’s new LED streetlights carry significant potential for widespread surveillance of residents and visitors of Providence. It is our understanding that each of these streetlights has the potential to operate as its own surveillance system, including audio and video recordings, and to transmit information via Wi-Fi to third-party sources. Should these features be embraced, they would amount to nothing less than the wide-scale surveillance of every person in Providence.
While the City of Providence has asserted they have no intent to use these features at this time, that assertion in and of itself is no protection. The potential for this mass surveillance exists the moment the first LED is turned on and, with no laws governing the use of this technology, there is nothing stopping the City from using this technology for any purpose they see fit, without first informing the residents of Providence. If the City truly has no intention of using these LEDs for anything other than lighting the streets, then we expect they will quickly pass an ordinance banning the use of the streetlights for surveillance and other purposes. Absent such protections, individuals in Providence should be aware that the City is constructing its widest surveillance network to date.”
Elorza said the color of the lights will be somewhere between the cold, blue LED light and the current orange glow that residents have become accustomed to.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of September.