Setting the Record Straight on Weatherization

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Last week, Vice President Biden visited a New Hampshire homeowner and announced that more than 200,000 homes have been weatherized as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helping families across the nation cut their energy bills. The Associated Press ran an article critical of the announcement and suggesting – incorrectly – that the Administration hasn’t acknowledged that the program got off to a slower start than was anticipated.

While it is true that it took longer than hoped to ramp up weatherization efforts, it’s also important to recognize the incredible progress that has been made and dramatic acceleration of the program. In June, more than 31,000 homes were weatherized – the most in history, and above our target rate, putting us on track to meet the program’s goal of completing 600,000 homes.

Unfortunately, the Associated Press story is based on individual anecdotes about individual states or contractors without providing the whole context of the program. And the story never disputes the most important fact of all: the weatherization program has accelerated dramatically in recent months and is now on pace to meet the goal.

The article selectively includes a few negative anecdotes while avoiding any mention of the great many examples of the program’s growing success, including:

* In Ohio nearly 15,000 low-income families are already feeling the benefits of reduced energy bills and nearly 1,400 workers are on the job providing energy efficiency services to homeowners.

* In Idaho, the state has already weatherized nearly three-quarters of the state’s planned homes.

* In Colorado, where more than 4,300 homes have already been weatherized, local veterans are being put back to work weatherizing homes.

* In Vermont, the state has weatherized nearly 70 percent of their expected total, already completing more than 1,100

As with many programs, there are states that are performing extremely well and there are states that are continuing to trail the national progress. The number of states that are successfully weatherizing homes for low-income families and creating jobs in their local community far outweighs the handful of states where we have identified any issues in the program.

More than 30 states have already weatherized more than 30 percent of their targeted homes: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Our focus at the Department of Energy has been on getting this money moving into the economy quickly, while making sure that the funding is spent well, with transparency and accountability. It seems like the AP can’t decide if we’re spending the money too fast or not fast enough. We think we’re effectively balancing those goals, supporting a successful program that has now reached a critical milestone.

DOE is devoting significant resources to ensure the success of this program in every state. Historically, the program received about $200-$250 million a year, and under the Recovery Act, the funding increased to $5 billion. That meant states had to ramp up significantly, including hiring and training new workers, purchasing new equipment, and setting up new systems to closely monitor the funding. That process is now complete. States are meeting their targets, low-income families are benefiting, and people are being put to work.

It’s also important to note that the Department of Energy has undertaken a massive monitoring and oversight effort as part of the program. Most issues that are identified in the program are identified by DOE staff. In fact, there are nearly 30 workers whose job it is to identify any potential issues and work with the states to correct them. These corrective actions can include requiring contractors to go back to houses to correct bad work, launching fuller investigations if there are any allegations of wrong doing, or in the case of Delaware, halting the program until it can be fixed. We’re also posting monthly totals of our progress online so you can hold state and federal officials accountable for our progress.

As Paul Harvey would say, and now you know “the rest of the story.”

Article by Dan Leistikow, Director of Public Affairs for the Department of Energy.

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