DOE office’s budget doubles with stimulus funds
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
GOLDEN, Colo. ” With the Obama administration announcing stimulus funds for energy-efficient public housing Tuesday, the federal office that oversees renewable energy and energy efficiency is hard at work deciding how to spend $500 million in stimulus money.
The infusion roughly doubles the annual budget of the Department of Energy’s field office in suburban Denver to an estimated $1.2 billion. Deputy manager Christine Phoebe said deciding how to spend it is a bit daunting for staff.
“They’re a little bit nervous about what’s coming down the pike,” Phoebe said. “But yet there is a sense of excitement. They feel like they are a part of history.”
The Golden field office oversees the nearby National Renewable Energy Laboratory and renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationally.
The National Energy Technology Laboratory doles out federal funds for state energy programs and weatherization. Once those funds are awarded, the Golden office monitors those projects generally west of the Mississippi River.
For the Golden DOE field office, the flow of stimulus funds means taking charge of at least another 236 projects on top of the existing 1,000, both active and inactive. Projects run the gamut, from $25,000 to outfit a small town with energy-efficient lights to more than $100 million for a biofuels refinery. Phoebe said the cost of projects typically will run from $100,000.
Last week, Phoebe learned that her office will also monitor 567 projects to be funded by grants for Native Americans.
“We’re going to have to decide if we’re going to have to add some additional project monitors to be able to do that,” she said.
Already, the field office is interviewing, hiring and training new employees because of stimulus-fueled work. The staff of 130 federal employees and about 70 contract employees is expected to grow by at least 52 and 60, respectively.
“We’re also moving people,” Phoebe said. “We’ve plumb run out of space in this building.”
The staff is putting in long hours to gear up for the extra work. Phoebe said people are working on weekends and 10- to 12-hour days ” and keeping strict track of their time under the Obama administration’s insistence on transparency in spending stimulus money.
Proposals for renewable and energy efficiency projects are being solicited. Phoebe said the goal is to approve projects and disburse funds quickly.
“The goal is to have the preponderance of the money awarded by late summer, early fall,” she said.
Yet the process for selecting and awarding grants includes reviews by committees and authorization by DOE officials in Washington, D.C. Research and development projects can take a little longer to approve than such work as highway construction because of their complexity, Phoebe added.
Monitoring will be more frequent and stringent, while the ultimate measure of success will be the number of jobs created.
“And the sustainability of those jobs,” Phoebe said. “If we don’t see something by the end of 2010, if we don’t see that this is going to continue with some momentum, then some of us may be looking for other jobs.”
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.