Lawmakers: Energy Office sluggish with stimulus

The governor's new energy program manager took a beating Thursday as some lawmakers charged the Energy Office isn't getting $35 million in stimulus money out the door and committed to projects fast enough.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was particularly critical that about $18 million in loan and grant funds haven't been released for energy projects that would create jobs. He objected that the Energy Office wasn't even able to provide a list of projects being proposed for the loan money.

Jim Brandmueller, who has only been on the job a month, said the problem with the block grants is simple: The federal government hasn't actually issued the money yet.

As for the loan program, he said the federal government is still deciding whether there is enough time left to get it up and running before the deadline two years from now to obligate all the cash. He said he doesn't have the list of projects yet because each local government, not the state, develops its own project list. He said he will provide the list once he has it.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who chairs the legislative stimulus monitoring committee that met Thursday, questioned why funds earmarked for school improvements were to be divided equally among Nevada's 17 counties given the huge difference in size of the school districts.

Brandmueller said he would look into that issue but that the idea was to provide funding for the projects producing the biggest improvements in efficiency and that some of the oldest schools in Nevada are rural.

Horsford charged that, according to his sources in Washington, D.C., some of the hold-up is because the state's plan for spending a lot of the money wasn't properly completed and, therefore, can't be approved.

"Right now there's a lot of money in the energy office and we're not seeing any activity in getting it out on the street," he said.

Brandmueller said after the meeting that the office has received more than $35 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. He denied there are mistakes in the state plan that are holding up the release of money.

"There are no mistakes," he said. "There are issues, discussions and negotiations going on with the (federal Department of Energy)."

He confirmed, however, that almost none of the money has been spent.

Transportation Director Susan Martinovich, by contrast, reported the Nevada Department of Transportation has obligated about $100 million of the $201 million in ARRA transportation funding. She said contractors have reported to her department that more than 400 jobs were either created or preserved by those contracts.

Instead of pumping the money all into one or two big projects, she said NDOT and local transportation officials decided to put the money into more than 20 smaller projects, which actually puts more people to work. Many of those projects, she said, are preservation projects.

"I think we're doing the right thing," she said.

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