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What Happened To All That Stimulus Efficiency Money?

Last year's stimulus bill had about $20 billion for energy-efficiency measures, something that, in theory, was a grand idea. Groups like McKinsey have done a whole bunch of studies on how efficiency upgrades are pretty much magical in every way: saving a boatload of money, cutting carbon emissions, the works. But that's just the theory. Where did all the stimulus money actually go? As Kate Galbraith reports in the Times today, a lot of it hasn't even been spent yet:

But in many cases, efficiency companies say, the stimulus money is still awaiting distribution. One exception is a weatherization program for homes, where the dollars have been moving, Mr. Grumbly of Lockheed said. Last year, more than 30,000 homes were weatherized with stimulus funds, and the number is increasing.

Seth Kaplan, the clean energy and climate change program director at the Conservation Law Foundation, says that one of several reasons disbursement has been slow is that many localities are not accustomed to a flood of money coming in and do not have the infrastructure to use it. Another challenge, he says, is a shortage of labor in the efficiency business—especially for specialized roles like air sealers.

Granted, the piece gets slightly more optimistic after that point, noting that the industry is starting to gain momentum, especially as the credit markets improve. And the efficiency business will presumably keep expanding if policymakers keep offering incentives for energy efficiency, which seems likely. Last October, Obama signed an executive order requiring big upgrades to federal buildings, and there's been a lot of talk about an "efficiency standard" included as part of congressional energy legislation (there's also this Home Star proposal to give people rebates to make their homes more efficient—sort of the home version of Cash for Clunkers). But, for now, it's still slow going.