More than two years into a three-year government program to create jobs and boost energy efficiency in homes and businesses in three southeastern Wisconsin cities, many millions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans available for property owners remain uncommitted.
Funded by federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the $20 million program is focused on Madison, Milwaukee and Racine.
And, while more than 500 homeowners and about 100 businesses have seen green updates under the program -- known collectively as Wisconsin Energy Efficiency, or WE2, and as Green Madison locally -- much opportunity remains in the program's last seven months. After that, any unused money must be returned to the federal government.
In total, only about $3.16 million in grants for homeowner and business projects have been awarded, along with roughly $1 million in low-interest loans for residential projects, as of late October, according to Brian Driscoll of the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., a nonprofit organization that administers the cities' programs.
No commercial loans in any of the three cities have been disbursed yet -- though Driscoll said several could be completed "in the very near future" -- and no projects of any kind have occurred in Racine, where the program is just getting started and will focus only on commercial properties.
The city of Racine received $700,000 of the $20 million total grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, with $12.1 million for Milwaukee and $7.2 million for Madison.
Driscoll said community response has been good, noting it takes time for any new program to become known and trusted.
He said 22 businesses signed up in Madison from June to August, when commercial incentives -- which change every three months -- were worth up to 40 percent of project cost, depending on energy savings achieved.
They now are worth only up to 30 percent, or a maximum of $40,000 for projects over $75,000, but Driscoll predicted a similar sense of urgency would develop this winter, through a just-added $500 bonus for natural gas boiler and furnace replacements through December.
Residential grants also are tiered, up to $2,000 for energy savings of 35 percent or more, Madison energy grant administrator Matt Wachter said.
Homeowners also are eligible for low-interest loans, and 86 totaling about $430,000 have been disbursed to individuals in Madison and Milwaukee.
Hopes for the program
Green Madison wants to retrofit 4,500 homes and 109 businesses, according to the goal statement.
What's been accomplished so far is a fraction of that -- with the program in some way reaching about 28 percent of the desired businesses, and about 16 percent of the homes.
But the program's over-arching goal is that it helps instill a new mindset, so that energy savings in construction or remodelings "becomes standard and common practice," Wachter said.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said the program also was important because the improvements save energy, lower operating costs for property owners and stimulate the local economy.
"It certainly put people to work," he said.
Some jobs added
Madison and Milwaukee each has a list with dozens of vetted contractors willing to participate, and projects have provided some of them with work, though it's not clear whether or how many jobs were saved or created.
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