Kansas looks to shift more than US$20M to three renewable energy projects from a project program that promotes energy efficiency projects in homes

TOPEKA, Kansas , July 22, 2011 () – The state is seeking permission to transfer a majority of federal stimulus money used for a program that promotes energy efficiency projects in homes and small businesses to three renewable-energy production projects, officials said Thursday.

The Kansas Energy Office wants to shift more than $20 million from the Efficiency Kansas program to renewable energy projects in Wichita and Oakley and a statewide energy supply project.

If the U.S. Department of Energy approves the proposal, the energy efficiency program would be left with between $1 million and $2 million, enough to keep it operating for four to six weeks, said Kansas Corporation Commission spokeswoman Cara Sloan-Ramos.

Partners in the Efficiency Kansas program were notified this week of the possible changes. The Kansas Energy Office is trying to find other financing to continue the loans, Ramos told The Lawrence Journal-World.

"We have no intentions to shut the program down," Ramos said. "We have every intention of ramping back up and keeping it a viable program."

Gov. Sam Brownback's administration directed the KCC to reallocate the money because the full amount of stimulus money wasn't going to be spent by the April 1 deadline, Ramos said. Instead of having to return millions of dollars to the federal government, the three renewable-energy programs will keep the money in Kansas.

The proposal would divert $5.25 million to an ethanol fueling project in Wichita, $12 million for a biomethane production facility in Oakley and $4.5 million for the development of a bio-based energy supply chain.

"These are key renewable energy projects that will grow the Kansas economy and enable us to spend all those Recovery Act funds," Ramos said.

Former Gov. Mark Parkinson established the Efficiency Kansas program through the KCC in 2009. It set up a revolving loan program to allow banks and utility companies to help finance energy efficiency improvements in residential homes and small businesses.

The program started slowly, with less than 60 people taking out loans in the first 10 months. But interest increased this winter after utilities began offering zero-percent interest loans for up to $20,000 that could be paid over 15 years through electric bills. Since Westar Energy received approval in February to make those loans, 64 customers have taken out loans totaling $442,000. Another 111 loans are pending, said Kim Gronniger, manager of Westar's consumer services.

"Customer interest has been high," said Gronniger. She added that the company is researching how to continue the program without the stimulus money.

Energy auditor Robert Coffman in Lawrence said he had done 240 home energy audits since the program started and has hired four people to help with the nearly 65 percent of homeowners who took out the loans. He said the remaining stimulus money would not be enough to keep the program viable.

"We see by the numbers that this program is working," Coffman said. "There is no reason to close it off in two weeks."

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