SCHENECTADY — The Electric City has sought to rebrand itself as a smart one.
The vision was largely affirmed on Monday with a visit from state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who touched down for the launch of a report on how governments statewide are deploying new technology.
“Schenectady is at the forefront of these efforts,” said DiNapoli at Schenectady Fire Station No. 3 in Mont Pleasant.
The state’s top money watcher called Mayor Gary McCarthy a “tireless advocate” for leveraging technology to reform how government delivers services, and highlighted several of the city’s projects in the report, including its partnership with National Grid to swap out street lights with new energy-efficient LED models.
The report, DiNapoli said, was influenced by a visit to Schenectady two years ago and is designed to provide a broad overview of the ways that local governments in New York are adopting smart technologies.
Applications range from street lighting to traffic and emissions control monitoring and outfitting vehicles with new technologies, including the city’s fleet of snow plows, which are equipped with GPS and can be tracked remotely by residents during storms.
McCarthy said the city is continuing to select which specific sensors will be co-located on the poles, but said environmental sectors will be “dispersed in key locations.”
Less glamorous applications allow localities to utilize online bill payments, including water, sewer parking tickets, and provide a channel for constituents to submit complaints.
“When successful, these efficiencies have the potential to free up resources for other critical needs, help leaders hold the line on taxes and encourage new growth and development,” DiNapoli said.
Workers on Monday also continued to lay fiber-optic cable as part of the city’s effort to deploy a public wi-fi network and sensor-based technology.
The City Council in July signed off on the project to lay the mile-long strip of fiber.
McCarthy said the upgrades will provide for more technological horsepower throughout the city, including a future 5G network.
Dignitaries later watched as National Grid installed one of what will eventually be 4,400 new street lights using LED technology at the corner of Congress Street and Third Avenue.
Switching to LED lights with smart dimmers and timers can reduce energy expenses and allow for better control, allowing light to be dimmed during off-hours or adjusted based on real-time data.
The units have a life expectancy of 10,000 hours.
At the same time, the city is partnering with the utility provider to co-locate sensors on the equipment, including to monitor traffic data and collect analytics.
National Grid has estimated they will invest approximately $7.6 million over the three-year implementation of the REV project, which had a deadline of June 2021.
Officials aim to have installation in the first two zones finished by the end of the year. Following an evaluation phase, the technology can potentially be deployed elsewhere in the city as part of a third phase.
The city has spent $1.5 million for the Smart Cities initiative to date, McCarthy said in April.
The city has set aside approximately $5 million in its capital budgets over the past three years for the work, with $2 million included in the budget for 2019.
McCarthy, who must present his proposed 2020 budget to City Council on or before Oct. 1, couldn’t say on Monday how much he planned on asking the City Council to allocate for Smart City projects next year.
State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, previously secured a $1 million grant toward the effort.
“Schenectady is really on the map,” he said. “It’s become a model to follow.”
Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association President Pat Smith said she was optimistic about the applications.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Smith, who hoped for increased crime fighting and law enforcement usages.
County District Attorney Robert Carney has previously said there were no plans to merge the county’s network of surveillance cameras with the city’s emerging Smart Cities effort.
But McCarthy on Monday said the city’s technology will help “document and deter” criminal activities in the city’s neighborhoods using web-based applications, including the possibility of additional cameras.
“The options are there,” McCarthy said.
John DeAugustine, president and publisher of The Daily Gazette, is a member of the Smart City Advisory Committee.
The report does not make any recommendations for or against the technologies.
But smart technology has opened the door to new risks because the systems generate and collect massive amounts of data on both residents and government operations.
The report advised officials to “systemically address” the heightened need for a cybersecurity policy to protect their assets and their residents’ private information and to ensure localities have control of data from third parties.
DiNapoli also urged local governments to “carefully weigh the costs and benefits of owning versus leasing equipment and of hiring permanent staff versus contracting with a vendor.”
The city of Schenectady lost access to pothole data earlier this year when city workers deleted data.
The vendor, CivicPlus, said it could retrieve the data but would charge the city $400 for the service.