California board told 91 clean-energy projects completed

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Posted: Sep 08, 2015 9:37 PM
California board told 91 clean-energy projects completed

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California officials told a citizens oversight board Tuesday that they know of 91 school energy-efficiency projects completed with funding from a green energy ballot initiative, and they expect the number will climb as districts provide updates at the end of the year.

California Energy Commission staff told the Proposition 39 Citizens Oversight Board that 43 education districts out of more than 1,600 that applied for planning money have finished projects so far. To date, the commission says 536 applications have been approved.

The Associated Press reported last month that three years after voters closed a corporate tax loophole to promote clean-energy jobs, the oversight board had not met. The board was not expected to meet until October or November.

The AP's review found only 1,700 jobs have been created so far, raising concerns about whether the money is accomplishing what voters were promised. The state also had no comprehensive list of work done or energy saved.

Voters approved Proposition 39 in 2012 to raise taxes on corporations and send billions of dollars for energy-efficiency projects. The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown later decided to dedicate the bulk of the clean-energy funding for public schools to update existing facilities.

During the citizens board's first meeting, Randall Martinez, a construction management executive appointed by Attorney General Kamala Harris, asked what kind of audits the state will conduct to ensure job and energy projections are achieved.

Energy officials said that just because an energy efficiency project is installed, the project doesn't result in energy savings costs because of outside factors like student population growth.

"I think we need to understand that evaluating energy savings as a result of this is not really just a straightforward number-crunching game. It actually requires quite a bit of study," Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister said.

The board also elected a climate-change consultant as chairwoman of the nine-member body. Kate Gordon, appointed by former state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, previously worked at billionaire Tom Steyer's Next Generation, an alternative energy advocacy group. Gordon is now with the Paulson Institute, founded by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Gordon, who nominated herself, said she has spent a lot of time thinking about the implementation of Proposition 39 and authored report that placed the potential of the program at 11,000 in direct and indirect jobs a year.

"Obviously, really, really interested in how this program plays out," Gordon said. "I've spent an enormous amount of time thinking about it and am very excited to finally have an opportunity to talk about it in a public forum and air some of the questions that have been coming to me, in particular, as a representative on this for years."

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, the state Energy Commission and Steyer, who campaigned with a personal donation of $30 million to pass the measure, have maintained the program is on track. De Leon rejected calls by Democrats and Republicans to hold a legislative hearing to examine how Proposition 39 funds are being spent.

School representatives on Tuesday told the board that they appreciated the impact of the program.

Eric Bakke, a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said that while the school doesn't have a lot of data, it takes a while for the projects to get off the ground.

"When we were dealing with the recession, the economy, these dollars really mattered to us," Bakke said. "So it's really important that we continue a program like this."

Schools have a limited window to access this pot of money for clean-energy projects. There is a 2018 deadline to request funds and a 2020 deadline to complete projects.

The AP found funding for the program is trickling in at a slower-than-anticipated rate, and more than half of the $297 million given to schools so far has gone toward consulting, energy audits and planning. On Tuesday, the Energy Commission painted a rosier outlook using totals from projects approved.

The oversight board is made up of nine citizens appointed by the state treasurer, attorney general and controller with two ex-officio members from the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission. It is tasked with reviewing expenditures, auditing the fund and maintaining transparency and accountability.