A Massachusetts high school has been unable to turn off its smart lights system since August of 2021 when the software running failed.
When Minnechaug Regional High School opted to have a smart lights system installed a decade ago, the goal was to save money and energy, but no one ever imagined that one day, the 7,000 lights illuminating the sprawling educational complex would one day run continuously, racking up a small fortune in bills. The lights at this Springfield suburbs school in Wilbraham have been running continuously at full brightness since mid-2021, but with so many people struggling with their electrical bills, the massive waste of taxpayers’ money has become more blatant than ever. Unfortunately, there is apparently no way to turn off the lights at this time…
Photo: Vadim Babenko/Unsplash
“We are very much aware this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money,” Aaron Osborne, assistant superintendent of finance at the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, told NBC News. “And we have been doing everything we can to get this problem solved.”
Unfortunately, solving the problem is tougher than it sounds. The company that installed the smart lighting system didn’t think to include physical light switches, relying instead on software to control all the 7,000 light bulbs. When that software failed in August 2021, leaving all the lights on continuously, the school contacted the company that had installed it, only to learn that there wasn’t much to be done.
5th Light, the company that had installed the system, apparently changed hands several times during the last decade and was now owned by another company called Reflex Lighting. They also didn’t have access to the software they had used on this particular project anymore, so the only way to fix the problem was to replace the hardware (server, lighting control boards, etc.).
Mainly because of supply chain issues in China caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, getting the parts required to finally turn off the 7,000 lights at Minnechaug Regional High School has proven to be very challenging. The repairs were supposed to be carried out in early 2022, but got pushed back all through the year. Now, the lighting company claims that it received all the necessary replacement parts and the lights will finally be turned off next month.
“While we are hopeful this will be met, we are of course skeptical,” school officials said. “So, for now, the lights are stuck on.”
Although the smart lights system uses highly efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs, the 7,000 lights throughout the high school still consume a lot of energy. It’s hard to estimate how much taxpayer money it cost to keep them running non-stop for 17 months, but it certainly adds up to a decent amount.
When possible, teachers have manually removed bulbs from fixtures in classrooms, while school staff has shut off breakers not connected to the main smart system, but the bulk of the lights have remained on since August 2021.
Paul Mustone, president of the Reflex Lighting Group, told journalists that the problem will finally be fixed next month, “and yes, there will be a remote override switch so this won’t happen again.” It’s mindboggling that no one thought to implement one from the start…