Gearing up to Spend Weatherization Money Will Take Time
ST. PAUL, Minn. — With a flood of federal dollars headed their way, Minnesota officials are scrambling to find enough home-energy auditors to ramp up the state’s low-income weatherization program. According to the Pioneer Press, “Right now, there simply aren’t enough qualified personnel to do the job.”
An avalanche of funding
Last year, Minnesota’s budget for low-income weatherization was only $10 million — a paltry sum compared to this year’s $135 million avalanche of federal stimulus funds. “To deliver the weatherization dollars as quickly and effectively as we can and put people to work as quickly we can, we’re going to have to deal with a couple of bottlenecks,” said Minnesota Representative Jeremy Kalin. “First, we’re going to have to hire and train hundreds more home-energy auditors.”
According to the Pioneer Press, the task won’t be easy. “Officials are looking for ways to dramatically increase the numbers of home-energy auditors, as well as identify contractors who can do the job — in the shortest time possible. The state already partners with Dunwoody College of Technology to train home-energy auditors, but those courses are packed. The school recently added new courses, but the earliest openings aren’t until June. So the state is looking to replicate the training elsewhere.”
Can private contractors meet the demand?
Most weatherization jobs require the services of an insulation contractor. According to Bill Foley, owner of Maple Tree Insulation in Mahtomedi, Minn., small companies like his find it difficult to ramp up quickly. The Pioneer Press reported, “Some of the local organizations that administer energy programs have suggested — even before the stimulus package but especially now — that Foley expand his business. But he’s not sure he can afford to, and that raises questions about whether private contractors can meet the demand — especially since the jobs may disappear once the stimulus dollars evaporate. ‘They want us to increase. They want us to put on people; they want us to put on more trucks. But we (small operators) don’t have enough money for that,’ Foley said. Even if he were to hire more staff, Foley said that it might take three to four months to train them.”
The problem is not unique to Minnesota. Steve Boniello, director of Neighborhood and Community Services, is trying to hire four additional energy auditors for the weatherization program in Kansas City, Mo. “You’d think we’d be getting applications from people from the construction trades,” said Boniello, “but we haven’t seen many applicants.”