Minnesota 17th in stimulus weatherization progressby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A new report by the U.S. Department of Energy's inspector general shows most states have only spent a tiny fraction of the stimulus money allocated to them a year ago to weatherize homes.
According to the report, Minnesota has weatherized 8.4 percent of the more than 16,000 homes that should be weatherized with the money by March 2012.
Sixteen states have weatherized a higher percentage of homes than Minnesota, while the rest of the states have even more work to do.
The report comes about a month after Minnesota received an award from the Department of Energy for being one of the top performers in the country for progress made in using the weatherization funds.
Nicole Garrison-Sprenger, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, said agency officials were surprised Minnesota was 17th in terms of weatherization progress. However, the report shows Minnesota is still in the top five when it comes to the total number of homes weatherized.
Inspector General Gregory Friedman wrote in his report to Energy Secretary Steven Chu that the lack of progress on weatherization means only a limited number of jobs have been created.
"The job creation impact of what was considered to be one of the Department's most 'shovel ready' projects has not materialized," Friedman wrote.
The weatherization program allocated about $5 billion to already existing state programs for low-income and middle-income residents. Minnesota received $132 million.
Friedman wrote that those residents "have not enjoyed the significant reductions in energy consumption and improved living conditions promised" by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Department of Energy officials cited several reasons for the slow progress, including state budget shortfalls that made it difficult for states to provide staff to implement the program quickly. Officials also said it was difficult to synchronize so many moving parts quickly.
Garrison-Sprenger said Minnesota in the past received about $9 million a year from the federal government for the weatherization program. With $132 million, more staff was needed.
"It took a better part of the summer (of 2009) to ramp up," she said.
In addition, it took the federal government several months to tell states including Minnesota what to use as the prevailing wage, a requirement for spending the weatherization dollars from the stimulus package.
Now that those issues have been ironed out, Garrison-Sprenger said people should expect to see a sharp increase in the number of homes weatherized in Minnesota.
"We're ramped up, we're ready to go," she said.
The inspector general's report concluded that while many of the causes for delay are now resolved, proper monitoring is needed to ensure the funds aren't wasted or abused.