STRATFORD -- Visitors to the council chambers at Town Hall may have noticed that the room is lighted by a pair of outsized candelabra-style lighting fixtures. In the old days of incandescent bulbs, they each consumed about 640 watts of power. Now they're glowing with light-emitting diodes, and they use only about 144 watts. The updated lamps are part of a massive $10 million project that's cutting energy use -- primarily heating, lighting, air conditioning and refrigeration -- and topping the state in municipal energy savings. "Stratford is a leader -- they're out in front in taking energy savings to the next level," said Patrick McDonnell, United Illuminating's director of conservation and energy management. "There's really no magic here -- you use the energy savings to pay off your investment." State Rep. Laura Hoydick, R-Stratford and a ranking member of the Legislature's Energy and Technology Committee, agreed with McDonnell's assessment. "In the school system alone, from 2005 to 2010, the town saved $1.5 million in reduced energy use," she said. Overall, Stratford has updated 37 of the 50-plus buildings owned by the town, according to officials. The town's latest $10 million undertaking is largely funded as a loan from a private sector initiative called the Energy Savings Performance Contract, or ESPC. The money will be paid back over the next decade from the cost savings the town is enjoying on heating oil, natural gas and electricity. "The dollar savings you see with these improvements pay for themselves and more," McDonnell said. "When you go from a boiler with 60- to 70-percent efficiency to one with 95-percent efficiency, well, that's a big difference." The mayor's office also received a $791,000 grant from the state for the work. Mayor John Harkins estimates that Stratford will save nearly $500,000 a year in energy costs. Officials said the program has a payback period of 10 to 12 years. Much of the technology installed was state-of-the-art, according to Doreen Hamilton, an energy account executive for Honeywell. Some rooms, for example, have their heating and air-conditioning systems governed by a carbon dioxide sensor. "People give off carbon dioxide, so the more people in the room, the more CO2 you have," she said. "These latest control systems can tell how many people are in a room by the amount of CO2 being given off, and adjust the HVAC systems accordingly." HVAC is the industry acronym for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Other state-of-the-art controls turn off the lights in rooms that receive a high amount of sunlight through the windows. Furthermore, certain designated town employees can monitor and adjust building energy systems remotely from their iPads, turning down the boilers in schools on snow days, for example. "There are also savings in labor costs," Hoydick said in reference to these remote-control systems. "Actually, because Stratford was so progressive, a lot of the lighting was already upgraded before this program began," McDonnell said, "and this project is the icing on the cake. It took all the things that were left to do and put them in one package, including the financing." McDonnell said that a similar energy-saving financing program is available to small businesses, some of which use huge amounts of electricity, including convenience stores that have an entire wall of refrigerators and freezers. Still, Honeywell's David J. Jones said in spite of all of the focus on saving energy since the oil crisis of 1973-74, the nation's energy consumption has been continually inching upward. Part of this is because of the growing population, Jones said, but also because the growing number of electronic devices, most of which either need frequent recharging or always create a load because they never completely turn off. "The curve continues to grow," said Jones, the company's vice president of energy and environmental solutions. "The overall intent is to get that curve going down. But while we're saving kilowatt-hours with more efficient lighting, we're using more with all of our devices." Stratford's energy savings are part of a larger, statewide effort spearheaded by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board. The board announced Tuesday announced that residents, businesses and municipalities saved $53.8 million in energy costs and avoided global heating carbon dioxide emissions of more than 200,500 tons. This was accomplished with a variety of programs tailored for homeowners, home builders, businesses and municipal governments. The board primarily oversees the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, money that is raised to support energy efficiency programs and initiatives through a surcharge on customer electric bills.
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