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Home / Government / Minn. weatherization program gets high marks (1:37 p.m. 2/5/10)

Minn. weatherization program gets high marks (1:37 p.m. 2/5/10)

By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — Project ReEnergize encountered no stimulus-related delays.

In fact, the project went from concept to implementation in just a couple of months.

The Builders Association of Minnesota created and administered the program in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

There’s no denying that the program has been popular among contractors and consumers. Roughly 1,000 contractors have taken the training to participate in Project ReEnergize, resulting in upgrades to more than 1,400 homes. The $2.5 million in stimulus money used to start the program has been paid out and organizers are awaiting more money to continue the program.

Project ReEnergize — which offers rebates of up to $4,000 for homeowners who make certain energy improvements to their homes — has captured the attention of people in high places.

Last month, BAM officials participated in a conference call with White House policymakers, U.S. Department of Energy officials, a representative of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and other Washington VIPs.

“They wanted to know how we rolled it out, found contractors to train, what the safety protocols were, what did we think about other programs,” said Pam Perri Weaver, BAM’s executive director. “They really grilled us about how we’ve rolled this out so far.”

The short answer: Project ReEnergize is consumer-based instead of government-based, Weaver said.

“What sets it apart is that there’s very little government layering that happens with the program,” Weaver said. “(It’s about) government looking to the private market and talking to the private market about how to create jobs, and incent homeowners to upgrade their homes.”

In other words, Project ReEnergize does not include a lengthy application for contractors because the rebates go directly to homeowners.

The program doesn’t need to go through a request-for-proposals process, either, because BAM already has a pool of qualified and hungry-for-work licensed contractors who had existing relationships with consumers.

In all, BAM informed the 13,000 licensed contractors throughout the state of the opportunities available through Project ReEnergize.

The contractors involved needed about a day’s worth of training to participate. And because the homeowner is technically the one doing the hiring, prevailing wage requirements don’t apply.

Another advantage: Project ReEnergize has the potential to create multiple jobs for the contractor.

The average rebate for the homeowner, through Dec. 28, is $1,995. But the average job for the contractor was $10,800, including add-on projects.

“The consumer is not just purchasing energy upgrades — they are purchasing countertops, and tile and light fixtures, and faucets and flooring,” Weaver said.
And consumers don’t have to meet any income requirements to qualify.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Home Builders has singled out Project ReEnergize as a national model.

The program’s popularity outpaced its money. Its $2.5 million stimulus allocation was claimed within a month after the program’s Oct. 1 launch date, leaving its backers hungry for more.

If and when that happens is anybody’s guess.

“We have our fingers crossed,” said Jim Green, a vice president with Lumber-One, a St. Cloud-area building and remodeling firm.

Weaver credits the Department of Commerce for having enough “outside the box” thinking to team with the homebuilders.

“It’s a lesson in how a partnership with a private entity can benefit everybody,” Weaver said. “Government maybe should not be as afraid to use the private sector. Generally, they are hesitant to do it or don’t even think about it to deliver their programs.

“In this economy, you have to be bold.”

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