Economic Stimulus and Federal Government and Energy Efficiency and Energy & Environment and Energy Conservation and Government & Economic Development

Indiana 4 to 6 weeks behind its weatherization goal

May 23, 2010

Indiana is lagging several weeks behind its goal of weatherizing the homes of thousands of low-income residents, a delay that's pushing back the release of the second half of the stimulus funds the state got for those energy-saving retrofits.

Indiana had set a May 31 goal to upgrade at least 6,000 homes with the first half of the $132 million it got through last year's federal stimulus bill for weatherizing homes.

But a series of delays that stymied the start of work installing energy-saving new furnaces, windows and insulation means Indiana won't reach that number until late June or early July, said Paul Krievins, the state's weatherization program manager.

Indiana can't access its remaining $65 million in funds until it finishes retrofitting at least 6,000 homes, or 30 percent of the minimum 19,700 homes it expects to upgrade.

As of May 14, about three-quarters of those upgrades were complete.

Krievins said Friday that the expected four- to six-week delay before the state reaches its goal is due largely to a series of delays at the federal level and federal scrutiny that postponed last year's start of Indiana's weatherization work.

The U.S. Department of Energy questioned several aspects of Indiana's plan for the funds, pushing the release of the first half of the funds from May 2009 to August.

Krievins said the 30 groups the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority tapped to do the upgrades then had a slow start getting things rolling last fall. And it's taken Indiana time to train new contractors for the jobs, including workers who assess each home's energy needs.

After those setbacks, Indiana experienced a long, cold winter that left contractors busy fixing failed furnaces around the state instead of helping weatherize homes.

"The timing of the award was really tough and then the contractors were busy with everyone else's work," Krievins said. "It really wasn't a perfect situation."

Despite the delays, the state's 30 contractors are now weatherizing 900 to 1,000 homes a month. They expect to retrofit up to 25,000 homes before the federal government's March 2012 deadline for spending the money, said David Kaufmann, the IHCDA's policy director.

But Robert Schmidt, executive director of ACTION Inc., said Indiana will have a tough job making up lost time given the complex, multistage process of weatherizing homes.

His group, which is one of the state's 30 contractors, has been weatherizing homes in Delaware and Grant counties since the late 1970s.

"Weatherization is a unique kind of beast. If you get behind, it's really, really hard to catch up," he said. "The clock's running all the time, so obviously the longer it takes the state to hit that 6,000-home level that triggers the release of the second round of funds, the less amount of time the state is going to spend that money."

The state's approach to divvying up its money drew criticism because some of the 30 groups it tapped to oversee the energy-efficiency upgrades had little or no experience with government-funded weatherization programs.

That included the Indiana Builders Association, which won the largest single grant — $20.7 million — to weatherize homes in more than 35 counties.

Krievins said Indiana needed to find new partners to help with weatherization projects that were 10 times the number that had ever been mounted in the state over a two-year period.

The Builders Association is among seven of the 30 groups from which the IHCDA recently "clawed back" about $1.4 million for "underperforming" in the early stages of the weatherization ramp-up, he said.

The Indianapolis-based group accounted for $1.04 million of the amount recovered.

As of May 14, the builders association had weatherized 33 percent of its target of 3,100 homes. That gave it the second-worst completion rate among the 30 groups.

Rick Wajda, the association's chief executive officer, said his group has made significant progress ramping up its weatherization efforts and should reach its target by August. He said the association's 100 contractors have about 1,500 home upgrades under way.

It is among 23 of the 30 contracted groups the IHCDA has granted extensions of between one and three months to reach their goals.

Wajda said the association and other groups handling the work faced a host of hurdles after getting the money, including a slow wait for the auditors who determine each home's needs and a larger pool of workers who can do the upgrades.

"This was not the shovel-ready program at lot of people said it was," he said. "Would we like to be further along than we are? Yes, but, all things considered, we're comfortable and confident that our folks are making progress and doing the job right."

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