Wasteful Weatherization Projects

The stimulus bill included $5 billion for weatherization projects.  The idea was not just to create jobs, but also invest in energy efficiency.  The money didn’t get spent quite as quickly as some had hoped, but it was still worthwhile , right?  Maybe not.  The stimulus funds ramped up weatherization programs so much that quality control and oversight may have suffered.

Exhibit A is Illinois’ Weatherization Assisatance Program, which received $242 million in stimulus money.  As the NYT‘s Green blog reports, a new Department of Energy Inspector General audit of Illinois’ program finds serious problems.

An audit by the inspector general focused on some work done by the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, one of 35 agencies in Illinois that are expected to share $91 million over three years. The audit looked at 15 homes and found that 12 failed final inspection “because of substandard workmanship.” In some cases, technicians who tuned up gas-fired heating systems did so improperly, so that they emitted carbon monoxide “at higher than acceptable levels.”

In eight cases, initial assessments of the houses and apartments called for “inappropriate weatherization measures.” In one case an inspector called for more attic insulation but ignored leaks in the roof, which would have ruined the insulation, the audit said. And for 10 homes, “contractors billed for labor charges that had not been incurred and for materials that had not been installed.’’ . . .

The federal audit said that Illinois had found a 62 percent error rate when it re-inspected homes weatherized by CEDA. And sometimes CEDA was spending more for materials than an individual homeowner would spend, the audit found. Some of the work created fire hazards, the audit said.

These results may not be representative of programs in other states, but there is good reason to be concerned.  Thanks to the stimulus, state agencies got lots more money to spend.  In Illinois’ case, the stimulus increased weatherization funds ten-fold.  Agencies received the funds even if they lacked the administrative capability to spend it wisely — particularly if they were expected to spend it quickly.    As a consequence, high levels of waste were to be expected, and results like those found in the IG’s Illinois audit should not be a surprise.