How Successful Is ARRA’s Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant Program

Posted on October 4th, 2011 by
   

David Ross, Branch Chief of the Block Grants Program for the DOE in Golden Colorado, talks about the current impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant Program.

Full Transcript:

Justin Segall: Justin Segall here for The Daily Energy Report with David Ross, the Branch Chief of the Block Grants program for the Department of Energy here in Golden Colorado. David, thanks for joining us.
David Ross: Absolutely.
Justin Segall: Tell us a little bit about what you do and the role within DOE and how you’re focusing right now on the stimulus and ARRA Block Grants and exactly what program is.
David Ross: The Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant program was actually formed under Bush and funded under the Recovery Act. We’ve got $3.2 billion of which $2.8 billion was formula grant, the remaining $400 million was in competitive grants. So, basically the top ten counties and cities in every state got money, including the state energy office under formula. They had 14 different activity types that they can choose from, everything from building codes to retrofits, to audits, solar, geothermal, wind, that sort of thing. So they were able to prescribe a program that fits their needs, which is fairly interesting. So, I guess July 2009 when the Recovery Act came out recipients were told that they’re going to get this X amount of dollars and they had to basically come back and say, well, here’s what we want to do in 14 or 13 really activities that they choose.  Came back and we basically approved their program, not approved but you know made sure it fell within the bounds of federal guidelines and then basically implementing those programs, making sure they’re spending the money creating jobs and moving forward to help the energy efficiency renewable energy economy.
Justin Segall: And so how is that coming? What are the results? How much of the money has been obligated and spent? How many kilowatt hours have been saved? How many jobs created, and within those metrics, what are you guys using as the metric that you’re judging success for the program on?
David Ross: I don’t have right now the numbers to give you what jobs have been created and greenhouse gas emissions saved, kilowatts saved. I think one of the biggest struggles has been getting the impact metrics with this program. I guess 15 or 16 different ways through the ASHRAE model to actually calculate energy savings and various recipients have various levels of understanding of ways of calculating. We had some issues as far as impact. So, what we’re doing is we went back into the small process metrics doing the program basically, project out the energy savings based upon certain project components, size of projects to basically extrapolate what the program is at the end.
Justin Segall: The metrics for success that you think when $3.2 billion is spent and we’re looking back, what’s the metric to judge if the money spent worked?
David Ross: Obviously we work with congress and congress had the intention with the Recovery Act to create jobs to stimulate the economy and that is a big component and I mean because it is part of the Recovery Act but when this program was created under Bush, the objectives were a little bit different. I think, as far as I am concerned, I’m not speaking for DOE but at the end of the program, I would like to see people educated, I’d like to have tools created, lessons learned, best practices. I’d really like to present a portal where recipients get to go or not even recipients post-ARRA the public sector and base we start, place we start where to find the tools, the manuals, the best practices to get, kick-start them into actually moving forward. I think that’s the biggest issue with a lot of the recipients is, they want to do something great, they want to do good things, they want to do retrofits, they want to do geothermal, they want to do solar and wind, but a lot of times they just don’t know where to start. We don’t have that network together. I think one of the big components that we’re trying to do is create the tools that allow post-RA work to be done in using DOE website for the place where they start.
Justin Segall: So, is there a particular of the grant recipients, a case study that you can point to as an example that you can give of here’s what success is looking like? The money has gone to projects or things that, what can we see, touch and feel that’s a result of it.
David Ross: Basically in every county and city, most every county and city, for instance I know Texas has almost 1100 recipients, almost every county and city in the state of Texas is getting money from this program. Each one of these recipients has been impacted, so there’s county facilities, courthouses that have been retrofitted, new installation, these type of things and there’s really energy savings that’s become of it. That’s reducing the burden of what the county or the city or the state has to then use our tax dollars for. I think that’s really the true benefit of what we’re doing, plus, that has also stimulated by seeing the savings and a lot of counties have never seen this before, never done this type of stuff before. There are various levels, you have the state of California and the state of New York who have been very progressive in this type of stuff and there’s other counties and cities that have never really thought about that before. So now educating them and actually them seeing the savings come from it, along with also outlining things like portfolio manager where you get the baseline, buildings that’s another initiative that we have been sort of pushing out, is having the recipients not a requirement of our grant, but we’re really trying to get them put their buildings into portfolio manager and then be able to baseline their buildings and see what buildings are performing and what buildings aren’t performing. So it gives them the tools to drive forward and make the right decisions on where to invest their dollars in the future.
Justin Segall: So, last question for you. The RA funds end next year, after that money goes away, does all the progress from this end? Or how does this sustain and go forward?
David Ross: I hope not. That’s the focus right now for us is what does the future post-RA look like? How do we keep driving forward giving the tools to help post-recipients make those right decisions? Setting up the manuals and tools and guidance documents that will help them move to the next step. Hopefully, we will be able to actually facilitate through technical assistance, regional coordination, pure networks, that type of stuff to actually continue the great work that they’ve done and not let it stop. I think that’s our biggest focus as of right now and we’ve gotten past, we’ve spent today I think we’re about 54%-55% of the money’s actually hit the street with also some working capital prior to that, which is typically anywhere from 3-6 months. The work has been done but it takes a while to get the money in and paid off. We’ve done that in about a year and a half, so it’s a pretty big task. So, hopefully at the end of this program, what I really would love to see is, the lessons learned from this, the best practices, put in a way that people can actually read and understand it. Put some business intelligence to actually be able to search the stuff in a more amicable way on the website and hopefully at the end of the program we will be able to, you know, we don’t actually have to give grant money is my hope. We can actually just by providing the tools and the resources and the communication, “inaudible-8:39” back into communal energy, energy versus the economy.

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