Call them energy conservation cops.
Power-saving sleuths were quietly ushered into City Hall one night, long after employees went home. They inspected offices on three of the 25 floors, hoping to discover how much energy was being wasted by computers, monitors and copiers that were left on, aging appliances that were inefficient, and other problems.
They returned a few weeks later for a daytime inspection of other floors, focusing on things like how long it took photocopiers to switch into "sleep" modes, and whether water coolers had timers on them.
In a building that has more than 1,500 computers, printers, scanners, coffee machines and other appliances, some bet the savings could be substantial.
And with the city facing dire fiscal straits, officials didn't want to pass up a free energy audit funded through a program sponsored by the New York Energy Research and Development Authority.
The verdict: Implementing some simple energy-saving measures could slash the costs of powering City Hall equipment by almost two-thirds -- or more than $71,000.
No one suggests this would solve Buffalo's budget migraines, but they note the savings would be enough to pay the salaries of a couple of clerical workers for a full year.
A growing number of municipalities and schools are becoming more energy-conscious, said Carol Sabo, a project manager for the New York Energy Smart Offices Project. There are 16 similar projects throughout the state involving cities, counties and educational institutions.
Sabo said it's easy to overlook "plug load," or the cost of powering equipment and appliances, which can account for about one-fifth of electric usage.
"Local governments and commercial offices have been looking at heating, cooling and lighting systems," she said. "But they often ignore things like personal computers, and the use of business machines continues to grow."
Common Council Majority Leader Marc A. Coppola, who has been involved in numerous energy conservation efforts, invited experts to inspect City Hall. The only offices not included were those occupied by the Board of Education. Officials worked closely with Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra, whose department oversees city buildings.
Some recommendations are as basic as making sure employees turn off anything that doesn't require power after hours.
"It's the easiest thing to do, but it's a behavioral thing. It's going to require reinforcement through staffers," said Sabo.
Coppola agreed, saying Buffalo's fiscal struggles require employees to be as "energy-conscious" in City Hall as they are in their homes.
But he added that some staffers are reluctant to flick switches off, because they have a tough time "re-booting" aging computers.
Some recommendations include acquiring software that reduces power usage by putting devices in "sleep modes" faster, and installing timers on water coolers, vending machines and coffee makers.
The city is also expected to implement a new policy that would call for purchasing only those electrical devices that have Energy Star status. Energy Star is a voluntary federal program that helps identify equipment models that are at least 10 percent more efficient than the standard.
Energy experts will revisit City Hall in a couple of months and then issue a progress report.