Question: How many Hennepin County workers does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: None, if you've got federal stimulus money to hire someone else to do it.

Thanks to a federal energy-efficiency grant that Hennepin County won last year, more than 22,000 fluorescent light bulbs soon will be replaced in the county's towering Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.

It's an unusually tall order that will be filled by one of six bidders for the contract, which is expected to be awarded later this month. County officials estimate the job could cost $200,000.

Leah Hiniker, the county's energy manager, said the project will pay for itself within three years. The new bulbs will be energy-friendly 25-watt T8 models, which will save the county about $65,000 a year in what it pays now to burn 32-watt versions. That doesn't include energy rebates from Xcel Energy.

It's been about five years since the bulbs were last changed, she said, and more and more lights in the building are going out all the time.

"It's more cost-effective to change all lamps at once than to change them individually when they burn out," she said.

Call it relamping

Hiniker, who was hired two years ago to manage the county's conservation efforts, helps direct Hennepin's recommissioning project, tuning up county buildings to make them as energy-efficient as possible. The multiyear project is expected to cost the county about $7 million. The county last year won a $2.6 million stimulus grant to help cover those costs, the same grant that will pay for the massive bulb switch-out at the Government Center.

But this isn't recommissioning, Hiniker said. Think relamping instead.

County crews have often done the job in the past, but stimulus funds require a competitive process to open opportunities to a variety of entities in the community, she said.

The county continues to receive stimulus funds for energy projects. This week county commissioners are expected to accept $150,000 in federal money from a large grant the state received for energy conservation.

The county will use the money to install more efficient lighting fixtures and controls at the Health Services Building in downtown Minneapolis. That project will cost $350,000 and save about $35,000 annually in electricity, operations and maintenance. It also will draw rebates totaling $50,000.

For the Government Center project, the winning bidder will supply the bulbs, install them and also clean the light fixtures -- mostly on the ceilings of the myriad offices and meeting rooms.

The contractor will decide how to do the job, Hiniker said. Most likely it will be a floor-to-floor strategy in the 24-story building, which includes two towers separated by an open atrium and linked every few floors by bridges.

A typical floor in each tower will require more than 400 new bulbs, she said. The work will be done after employees go home for the night.

It won't require workers to do any climbing or swinging in harnesses to get to hard-to-reach bulbs. "Most of the lights you can access," Hiniker said.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455