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Stimulus-funded weatherization rate improves

WASHINGTON — The number of Minnesota homes weatherized using federal stimulus money increased by about 80 percent over the past two months, according to figures released late Monday by the state Department of Commerce.

The figures were released just weeks after a federal auditor called it “alarming” that as of December, only eight percent of homes that were to eventually be weatherized already had been. Minnesota’s rate, cited by the feds, was 8.44 percent, though revised state statistics show December’s rate at about nine percent. Either way, funds intended to stimulate the economy — that some backers with rose-colored glasses on had promised would be spent before the worst of winter hit this year — went largely unspent.

When we talked a few weeks ago, state Commerce spokeswoman Nicole Garrison-Sprenger told me that those promises didn’t square with the mechanics of the program, wherein the state was given until 2012 to spend the money. Her department, she said, “typically gets about $9 million a year, so to get $132 million (in stimulus funds), we had to do some ramping up on our end, so we spent the better part of the summer getting the staff and infrastructure in place to do that.” She also said that “now that we’ve got everything in place, it’s exponential from here.”

Apparently so.

From July through the end of 2009, the state had weatherized about 1,500 homes. In the last two months, almost 1,200 homes were weatherized. All in all, the state hopes to weatherize 17,000 homes over the next two years.

“That would be almost 16 percent of the 17,000 homes we said we’d do by March 2012,” Garrison-Sprenger said.

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