States Fall Short of Weatherization Goals

State eNews Issue #45, April 29, 2010

When Congress included $4.73 billion for weatherization projects across the country, many in the states believed that was the ultimate “shovel-ready” project because a federal weatherization program with a funnel to states already existed.

That hasn’t been the case.

In fact, less than 8 percent of the total funding—$386.2 million—had been paid for weatherization work by mid-February, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Not only that, but five states—Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Texas and Wyoming—Washington, D.C., the five U.S. territories and two Native American tribes had undertaken no weatherization projects by the time the report was released.

One big roadblock has been the federal and state prevailing wage laws, according to the report. But there were also state-level problems, including the inability to prepare and gain approval of a spending plan for the stimulus money.

In Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire’s administration worked through the maze of problems to get things going. One goal, after all, was to produce much-needed jobs in a down economy. Last October, the state started conducting weekly surveys of the agencies it contracts with to provide weatherization services, said Steve Payne, the state’s weatherization manager.

“We weren’t seeing the production spike that we needed to see to meet that quarter’s goals,” said Payne.

The state typically contracts with 25 local agencies to provide the weatherization services. That wasn’t working fast enough, so the state became, in effect, the direct service provider. Washington has, since 1992, had a housing trust fund portfolio under which it has funded low-income housing projects throughout the state. Payne said many of these multi-family housing units such as apartment complexes needed energy efficiency improvements that would fall under the weatherization program.

The state conducted necessary energy audits and developed a plan for the needed work onsite.

“We tried to identify ways to streamline the process, and we relied on our existing priority list … that was generated from our energy audit,” he said.

That list was approved a year ago by the Department of Energy, which must approve the weatherization plans, Payne said.

That helped the state meet its goals. In fact, Payne said, Washington was able to accomplish many of the weatherization projects at a cheaper cost than anticipated by the Department of Energy because it was using the money for multi-unit buildings, instead of single-family homes. Washington is one success story the U.S. Department of Energy touts on its Web site. In fact, the state has exceeded its weatherization goal by 1,000 housing units—that includes apartments and single family homes—for the quarter ending March 31.

That qualified Washington to receive the second half of its weatherization funding from the stimulus package to work on even more homes and apartment buildings, Payne said.

He believes many states have similar housing available for weatherization, and the Department of Energy and Housing and Urban Development have collaborated to issue lists of projects that would be eligible for funding.

Apartment complexes are worth a look, Payne said, because of the potential job creation and energy savings for residents.

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