Kansas home weatherization funds diverted to bio-fuels industry

The Kansas City StarOctober 31, 2011 

Kansas lost more than a thousand jobs and the chance to weatherize thousands of homes, thanks to a state-run loan program that rolled out too slowly.

When it looked as if the state couldn’t meet a federal deadline, more than $20 million meant for weatherization loans went to a company and a nonprofit in the biofuels industry.

“This was something that was available that was going to benefit so many Kansans,” said Holli Joyce, who had plans to weatherize an older home in Kansas City, Kan., when the loan program was yanked.

The Kansas Corporation Commission concedes the revolving loan program was too slow in getting traction, but some blame Gov. Sam Brownback for pulling the plug on the program too quickly this summer.

State Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat, said the program was just getting under way.

“It was unfortunate because (the weatherization program) was a slow start but it was picking up steam,” Kuether said. “The idea was to help constituents lower their (utility) bills … and the rug was pulled out from under them.”

But Brownback’s office said the state had no choice but to reallocate the money, and Patti Petersen-Klein, KCC executive director, agreed.

The money was required to be spent by April 1 next year or it would go back to the federal government, and it was clear all the money would not be spent, Petersen-Klein said.

“We’ve been very candid; the program wasn’t successful,” she said.

The weatherization program, known as Efficiency Kansas, began with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal government’s stimulus package to get Americans back to work.

The state planned to use $32 million in federal energy efficiency funds to create the revolving loan fund. State officials promised to lend most of that to Kansans to repair their homes within three years.

The program was expected to create 1,150 jobs, such as weatherization auditors, and heating and cooling, roofing, insulation and window workers, according to the KCC.

But the KCC did not get the loan program moving quickly. In the first six months of Efficiency Kansas, only 13 people had taken out loans.

When concerns were raised last winter that all the money would not be lent by the March 2012 deadline, Brownback, a supporter of the biofuels industry, reallocated $20 million from the loan fund to grants and gave the money to two organizations in that industry.

To read the complete article, visit www.kansascity.com.

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