R.I. gets additional $10 million to weatherize homes

01:00 AM EDT on Friday, November 5, 2010

By Peter B. Lord

Journal Environment Writer

Just eight months ago, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Energy chided Rhode Island for failing to distribute any federal stimulus money for home-weatherization projects in the year since funding was approved. On Thursday, federal officials said the state has now done such a good job, they are handing over another $10 million.

That will result in the state getting a total of more than $20 million in federal stimulus funds to weatherize more than 2,500 houses.

There were several reasons for the turnaround, according to Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for Governor Carcieri and the state Energy Office.

Earlier this year, the state was spending normal weatherization-program money before it began using the stimulus money. Also, there was a shortage of weatherization contractors and the state Energy Office was understaffed.

Since then, the U.S. Energy Department says Rhode Island has weatherized more than 1,050 houses using stimulus money, and another 170 houses using funds from existing programs.

Kempe said credit should go to Ron Renaud and Ken Payne for reorganizing the state Energy Office and to local trade groups and colleges for ramping up training programs for contractors.

“The Energy Office deserves a lot of credit for increasing capacity,” Kempe said. “It’s operating very well.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Thursday that Rhode Island has weatherized more than 30 percent of the homes that it planned to work on. By doing that and “meeting a series of aggressive accountability and reporting milestones,” he said it would get access to the full $20 million.

Weatherization starts with an energy audit, and may include adding insulation and weatherstripping, sealing windows and doors, caulking cracks and replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems.

By August, more than 200,000 homes were weatherized nationally, the department reported.