California Behind in Weatherizing Homes

87567720Touted as a “shovel-ready” project that would create jobs immediately by leveraging existing infrastructure, the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program has so far fallen far short of its goals.  The program received almost $5 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to improve the energy efficiency of nearly 590,000 residences of low-income citizens — more than a tenfold increase over the $450 million approved in FY 2009.

But a Special Report released last month from the Inspector General of the Office of Audit Services at the DOE found that as of December, just $368 million (8%) of the $4.73 billion allocation had been spent, and 5% of the nearly 600,000 units nationwide slated for weatherization with funding from the Recovery Act were actually completed.

That includes completion of just 12 of 43,400 planned units in California, which has been allotted more than $185.8 million in Recovery Act funding for its Weatherization Assistance Program.

So much for shovel-ready.

The report outlines reasons for the hold-up. Among them was a lengthy delay while the Department of Labor conducted wage surveys to determine appropriate compensation for weatherization work, so that the program would be in compliance with regulations.  Many states did not want to begin work until the wage rates were in place, the report stated, so much weatherization work throughout the country did not begin until late in 2009.

The report also found that, “Ironically, given the anticipated stimulus effect of the program, economic programs in many states adversely impacted their ability to ensure that weatherization activities were performed.”

Effects like hiring freezes, and, in California in particular, furloughs created significant staffing challenges in implementing the Weatherization Program, the report said.

In a a press release responding to the DOE report, the National Association for State Community Services Programs  (state officials implementing the DOE program), said that, “While it is accurate to assert that the ramp-up of expenditures and production has been slower than anticipated, this has been due largely to variables outside of the control of network providers.”

T. Maria Caudill, a spokesperson for the California State Department of Community Services and Development, the “network provider” in that state, said that as of December 2009, state administrators were still waiting for “specificity” from the federal government with regard to wage requirements.  In the last two months, California has aggressively worked to get contracts in place and units weatherized, she said.

According to Caudill, as of the end of February, 849 units had been completed across the state and 1,047 were in the process of being weatherized.

“We are on target to meet our first milestone,” said Caudill, referring to the goal of 12,900 units weatherized with ARRA funds by September 30.

She said that currently, eight service areas including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and El Dorado County are still without contracts for the ARRA weatherization work.

In a speech at Stanford yesterday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told students and faculty that the number one priority of the DOE is “to get America employed using clean energy as the tool.”  Repeating a favorite metaphor of his, Chu called energy efficiency the “low-hanging fruit” for creating jobs, saving money, and reducing emissions.

As of December 2009, 520 jobs had been created or saved in California by the DOE’s use of recovery funds, according to a recent report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. That number will grow as California plays catch up, weatherizing more than 40,000 units between now and March 2012, which is the deadline for spending Recovery Act funds.