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Posted: July 01, 2009

Bank of Washington open for business

CORE event outlines contract and grant possibilities for clean tech companies

Rebecca Cole

In February, when President Barack Obama signed a stimulus bill containing $42 billion for renewable energy and clean tech projects, the promise of thousands of new green collar jobs appeared to be on the horizon.

But four months after Obama’s appearance at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the funding is just a trickle, causing Energy Secretary Steven Chu earlier this month to publicly lament the slow pace of distribution. As of June 26, only $6.6 billion has been awarded and only $142 million spent, according to the Department of Energy’s website. (Read the full breakdown of Colorado’s stimulus funding.)

Now it’s a waiting game, said officials from the Governor’s Energy Office and Greenprint Denver on Tuesday at an event hosted by CORE Colorado to help clean tech companies snag contracts and grants for new energy projects.

“I’m going to talk about possibilities because right now all of our funds are waiting for approval,” said Joel Asrael, manager of the GEO’s commercial buildings program. “Hopefully by middle of July we’ll have approval to start using the funds, and you’ll start to see programs hitting the street.”

Until then, any bids or contracts for new projects outlined in the proposal will just have to wait.

Three “pots of money” from the DOE will flow to the state, Asrael said, including $49 million for state energy programs (which normally survive on just $500,000); $80 million for weatherization programs for low-income residential housing; and $42 million in energy efficiency conservation grants to be divvied up among municipalities across the state. (Visit Colorado.gov/recovery or the Governor’s Energy Office for more details.)

“Because we are still waiting for DOE funding, and we’re still getting information back from them, any of this could change,” Asrael said.

The city and county of Denver expects to receive more than $6 million in block grants alone, by far the largest amount of money the city has ever had for energy efficiency projects, said Scott Morrissey, deputy director of Greenprint Denver.

But with the DOE pushing back its deadline for applications from June to August, the timing for implementation is still up in the air. Luckily, Denver’s application — consisting of 27 separate documents — is already sitting in the DOE’s office. In the next few weeks, Morrissey said, the agency will receive about 1,800 proposals from other municipalities.

Once funding is eventually received, Colorado will be under strict pressure to show how it will be spent. Mike Dino, a government relations specialist with law firm Patton Boggs, warned that Colorado is one of 16 states under special scrutiny by the General Accounting Office.

“If any money is distributed in partnership with the public,” Dino said, “you can count on the government being very careful in that whatever money goes to the private sector can be vouched for.”

A different set of challenges awaits private enterprises looking to capture stimulus funds directly from the DOE through grants or loan guarantees.

“One might think that giving money away for a worthy program is something that ought to be a relatively easy and straightforward process,” said Gregory V. Johnson, a partner with Patton Boggs. “But unfortunately it isn’t.”

There’s “no such thing as free money,” Johnson cautioned, referring to the terms the DOE requires for any business that accepts federal funding.

Although it is a “very doable process,” business owners need to understand that DOE objectives must be included in the project plan along with their own vision.

“It helps to have people involved who have been down that road before,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the DOE speaks in code, and you need to be able to ascertain what it is they are trying to get at,” he said.

Once a company is selected to receive federal funding and the time comes to negotiate a grant or loan guarantee, “that’s when things become interesting,” he said. “How you define the provisions of your agreement with the DOE is something you will have to live with for an extended period of time.”

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Rebecca Cole is the online editor at Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit "think-and-do" tank that drives the efficient use of energy and resources. Learn more about RMI's latest initiative, Reinventing Fire, to move the U.S. off fossil fuels by 2050.

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