The Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (to be called the Commerce Department beginning July 26th) has submitted the state’s application for more than $58 million in stimulus dollars to fund the State Energy Program (SEP).

The ambitious goal of the program is to complete retrofits for 3000 residences and 500 small commercial businesses by 2012 which will create 200-300 jobs and save 100 to 300 billion Btu in energy annually.  The Department of Energy should get back to the state in about 3 months with an answer about whether the program passes muster.  When considered together with local programs like those in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington’s effort could create more than a 100,000 retrofits in both the residential and business sectors over the next decade. As ambitious as all these programs are its worth noting, from a global perspective, that the United Kingdom is currently looking at retrofitting ALL homes in the UK by 2020. That’s 7 million homes completely retrofitted.

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  • The SEP proposal has several elements that encourage a shift away from dirty fossil fuels, including creating efficiencies in the agricultural sector, renewable energy investments, and loan loss reserves for energy efficiency financing.

    The component we’ve been watching most closely in our Economic Turnaround series is based on the Sustainableworks model included in Senate Bill 5649 and championed by Senator Lisa Brown of Spokane.

    This is the “Community-Wide Urban Residential and Commercial Energy Efficiency Program” which allocates $14.5 million to implement community-wide energy efficiency upgrades. The general idea behind the program—focusing on retrofits as a community organizing principle—is a great one. But how is the idea holding up as it has moved from legislation to a detailed funding proposal?

    It has held up quite well.

    First of all, I like the fact that the program specifically targets both single-family and multi-family dwellings. As I have written before multi-unit housing, where improvements are often most needed,  gets left behind in these programs. Another important piece of the state’s plan is using demographic and utility information to focus stimulus money that will pay for audits and retrofits. This would allow grantees of the program to select, for example, neighborhoods with older housing that pay larger percentages of their income for energy bills. This accomplishes energy savings and puts money in the pockets of families most in need.

    Another aspect of the SEP that I like is the measures established to find out whether the program is working. The program will review:

    * Monetary and energy savings achieved;
    * Savings-to-investment ratio achieved for customers;
    * Type, number, and wage levels of jobs created;
    * Utilization of pre-apprentice and apprenticeship programs; and
    * Efficiency and speed of delivery of services.

    These measures are the right ones to determine whether the stimulus money is being spent in ways that create the best outcomes for the people that need it most. And in the end, if these measures are met, money will have been saved, jobs created, and people trained for work in a field that will create more efficiency in the future.

    Lastly, the program will favor proposals that come forward with a dollar for dollar match for stimulus funds. This matching aspect ensures that will outlive the limited stimulus dollars allocated and create more local buy in to achieving the outcomes of the program.