Shovels could be in the ground as early as this week for the first two projects of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection‘s inaugural energy efficiency initiative known as Lead By Example.

OK — it’s not exactly shovels — more like unscrewing lightbulbs and moving air conditioners. But it’s happening all the same.

The two projects: A $710,000 upgrade of the energy management system that operates the lighting and climate controls at Eastern Connecticut State University’s library. The other would replace the existing HVAC units at the Cybulski correctional facility in Enfield with 16 high-efficiency units, at a cost of $151,000.

A third project — replacement of all the incandescent lights and guidance signs at Bradley Airport, which was announced when the Lead By Example project was unveiled in October — is on hold.

Lead By Example was conceived as a way for the state to begin meeting new requirements that energy usage in state buildings be reduced by 10 percent by Jan. 1, 2013. The ECSU and Cybulski projects are the first two off the ground from a group of 14. They are all being financed through bond funds — $15 million was authorized last September. The 14 projects would account for about a third of that.

But as DEEP and the Department of Administrative Services go ahead with the thousands of energy efficiency retrofits needed in aging and inefficient state-owned buildings, most will be done through performance contracts, which use the savings realized from energy efficiency upgrades to pay for the work.

DEEP is still developing the framework for the contracts — which also will be available to municipalities, and in the interest of time, the state decided to pay for a number of projects outright.

“The idea is that we need to get jump-started,” said Alex Kragie, special assistant to DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty. “We will make a transition to a performance contract-based system. This is a huge first step in terms of drawing folks’ attention. It’s job-creating investment.”

The Cybulski project is being handled in-house, but the ECSU work will be done by Automated Building Systems of Glastonbury, which will hire two new electricians and keep them on staff when the work is done.

“Since our state government is the largest property owner in Connecticut, this program is an opportunity to literally ‘lead by example,’” Esty said in a statement. “It will prove to businesses and homeowners around the state that energy efficiency is an effective means of driving economic growth while lessening our impact on the environment and improving the quality of life for Connecticut residents.”

Kragie estimates the payback on the investment on the first two projects is 6.3 years without rebates. The ECSU project is eligible for $283,000 in rebates, from the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, but will only accept half of that amount. The pool of 14 projects has an average payback of less than five years.

Kragie said that under the terms of the contract, both projects must be completed by June 30.

Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.

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