Back on February 20, 2009, I said the following about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:

While Republicans, Democrats and the President argued over the stimulus package for weeks, the real battle may arise when state agencies and officials attempt to divide up the stimulus funding and choose the projects that receive funding.

The real battle is now upon us.

The New York Times has written a fascinating article highlighting the benefits, and potential troubles, associated with clean-energy stimulus funds that will soon begin flowing to cities and towns. The article really paints a picture of potential waste and "headache" that may result from these funds. I was particularly struck by this section:

But the sudden flow of federal funding is raising questions about whether many of these communities are really ready for it.

Some 1,000 cities and counties have direct access to the new entitlement account, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. They have until June 25 to submit plans, but that’s a challenge, because most haven’t received federal grants for energy projects before.

Many communities are having trouble retaining enough police officers, let alone hiring sustainability professionals who understand how to establish energy efficiency programs that will evolve into long-term savings in power and money, experts say.

"Some cities are ready for this, others aren’t," said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Energy Programs Consortium, which helps state energy programs establish efficiency policies.

Many cities are using the stimulus funding for energy efficiency retrofits or even LEED certification:

  • "Las Cruces expects to receive $888,000. Henry said it will help pay for a solar array and "all the green stuff" on an old adobe bank the city is converting into a natural history museum that will be certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines. The project will cost about $6 million."
  • "Take El Paso, Texas. The sprawling city is due to receive $5.8 million in energy efficiency grants. It will use $3 million of that to help finance a $15 million "performance contract" program aimed at cutting energy use 30 percent in 52 public buildings."

According to the article, in a recent meeting, the DOE also suggested that cities and towns could use the funds to create "carbon trading markets." I don’t know about you, but municipal officials new to environmental policy might be better served retrofitting existing buildings instead of creating a complicated, regional carbon trading market.