In a bizarre tale of modern technology gone awry, a high school finds itself held hostage by its own energy-saving smart lighting system, leaving thousands of lights blazing and taxpayers footing the bill.

Minnechaug Regional High School in Massachusetts has been unable to turn off its smart lights system since August 2021, when the software controlling it failed. Installed a decade ago with the goal of saving energy and money, the school never anticipated that the 7,000 lights would one day be stuck at full brightness, resulting in a costly waste of taxpayer dollars. The inability to turn off the lights has become increasingly conspicuous as people grapple with their own rising electrical bills.

Aaron Osborne, assistant superintendent of finance at the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, acknowledged the financial burden on taxpayers, stating, “We are very much aware this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money… And we have been doing everything we can to get this problem solved.”

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However, finding a solution is no easy task. The company that installed the smart lighting system, 5th Light, didn’t include physical light switches, relying solely on software to control the 7,000 bulbs. After the software failed in August 2021, the school discovered that the company had changed hands multiple times and was now owned by Reflex Lighting. The new owners lacked access to the software, leaving the replacement of hardware as the only viable solution.

Complicating matters further, obtaining the necessary parts for the repair proved challenging due to supply chain issues in China caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Initially scheduled for early 2022, the repairs have been repeatedly postponed. Now, the lighting company asserts that they have received all the required replacement parts and the lights will finally be switched off next month.

Although school officials remain skeptical, they hope the problem will be resolved soon. In the meantime, teachers have manually removed bulbs from fixtures in classrooms and staff have shut off breakers not connected to the main smart system. However, the majority of the lights have remained on since August 2021.

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Despite using energy-efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs, the 7,000 lights throughout the high school still consume a considerable amount of energy. The cost of keeping them on non-stop for 17 months is difficult to estimate, but it undoubtedly amounts to a significant sum.

Paul Mustone, president of Reflex Lighting Group, reassured journalists that the issue will finally be fixed next month, adding, “and yes, there will be a remote override switch so this won’t happen again.” It’s baffling that such a simple solution wasn’t considered from the beginning, resulting in an unintentional comedy of errors that has left taxpayers footing the bill.

Sources: Odditycentral, NBC News

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