Florida Stimulus Success The Untold Story of Energy Savings and Economic Development

Guest Blog | August 15, 2012 | Energy Policy, Solar
In July of 2012, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), led by Commissioner Adam Putnam, issued an audit of energy initiatives including those funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds — also known as the Stimulus.  The audit states that:  “Based on reports received by the Office of Energy (OOE), the State of Florida has benefited from the investment of ARRA funds…state agencies, local governments, profit and non-profit organizations, indicate that the rebates and grants awarded have led to emission reduction, energy savings, energy cost savings and job creation and retention.”  July 2012, Operational Audit of the Florida Office of Energy

Combined, the Stimulus funds from the Energy Efficiency and Community Block Grant (EECBG), Energy Assurance Grant and Energy Star Appliance and State Energy Programs totaled $175.86 million, 60% of which has already been pumped into the Florida economy.  “Some recipients, such as local governments, reported progress in energy savings in areas that involved building retrofits, equipment upgrades, and the installation of more efficient lighting. These returns resulted in reductions in greenhouse gases and electric and natural gas consumption, as well as overall dollars saved through increased energy efficiency.  This was achieved through the development of energy efficient strategies and procurement of energy efficient systems, such as: retrofitting buildings with energy efficient HVACs; installing energy efficient lighting; purchasing alternative fuel vehicles; using biofuels and compressed natural gas to reduce fossil fuel consumption, and purchasing residential ENERGY STAR appliances and HVACs.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of the actual projects that took place:

– $17.6 million ENERGY STAR rebates helped to fund new appliances.

– The number of HVAC and geothermal systems purchased added $26 million to the Florida economy.

– The Solar for Schools Grant totaled $10 million – with 19 projects completed and 71 in various stages of completion.

– $39.39 million in ARRA funds supplemented the State’s Solar Rebate Program, which resulted in over 11,000 rebates.

– The Florida Energy Opportunity Fund (FOF), a direct investment grant created to promote the adoption of energy efficient and renewable energy products and technologies in Florida, was awarded $36.08 million.

– The Sunshine State Buildings Initiative of $7.62 million expended $5.55 million (or 73% of the total). The grant is projected to reduce electricity consumption significantly.

– By May 11, 2012, of the projects that competed for funding, four major projects have been completed and 120 agreements are still in progress. In addition, recipients have already begun to report return on investment (ROI) data for 50 projects.

– The City of West Palm Beach used their $6.8 million in ARRA funding to retrofit all City-owned street lights with energy efficient LED lighting and induction technologies, upgrading lighting in 15 city buildings and three City garages, and installing HVAC improvements in various parks and recreational facilities. The project is anticipated to result in savings of over $11 million in reduced energy and operations costs over a 15-year term.

– Sarasota County combined their ARRA funding with the Cities of Sarasota, North Port and Venice for a total of $2.13 million and put into place their residential energy efficiency initiative, which is still ongoing.

Perhaps the best success story is the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF), which got its start in St. Lucie County.  SELF matched the $2.9 million in ARRA funding with private sector funds. They created a low interest rate loan program to help reduce energy bills in communities and provide access to various clean energy solutions such as energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy production.   SELF is now expanding into other areas of the state and transforming itself from a revolving loan fund to a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury. This designation will provide access to even more funding and ensure that SELF can serve the citizens of Florida for years to come.

There will be even more successes in the pipeline to share, as Floridians will continue to benefit from the future energy savings of these projects.

The audit was of significant importance to establishing the success of the Stimulus; we have to look closely at what worked and what didn’t and take those lessons forward. The good news is that of the $175.86 million, 98.6% of the Stimulus funding went to projects that were or are in the process of being successfully implemented and only 1.2% of the total amount – $2.26 million in grants – were terminated due to irregularities and to avoid fraud investigations.  I’m not sure what it says about what makes headlines, but when West Palm Beach can save $11 million, that’s big news!

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