State using stimulus funds right

Helena Independent Record

It's easy to sit back and take potshots at the $787 billion federal stimulus package. And for good reason.

No. 1, it's our money capitulated against our future.

No. 2, there have been some questionable projects to receive portions of that funding, such as vinyl walls on state-owned bathrooms in Oregon or, more recognizably, dumping billions into an auto industry that two months later capsized into bankruptcy.

But there are some valuable projects in the lining, too. Forward-looking, energy-saving projects are among them.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Monday announced that Montana will receive another $10.3 million in federal stimulus funds to support energy efficiency and conservation.

With $2 million in stimulus funds already channeled to Montana for planning, this $10.3 million – plus a potential for $13 million more – would put the overall stimulus funds available for energy-efficiency improvements at $25 million for Montana.

Montana has played a significant role in crafting energy efficiency into the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Gov. Brian Schweitzer met with President Obama to lobby for energy conservation to be included in the stimulus package, which was already being addressed.

And Montana will remain at the forefront of energy efficiency and conservation with projects like replacing the aging boiler at the state mental hospital in Warm Springs, and installing heating system and lighting upgrades across the state.

Included in Schweitzer's original budget this biennium was $25 million in energy conservation projects. Those projects had already been vetted and were ready to go forward until plunging state revenue figures demanded they, and that $25 million, be stricken from the budget.

The stimulus funds will replace that funding and pay for many improvements to state buildings.

It's all part of Schweitzer's "20X10" initiative to reduce the state government's energy spending by 20 percent by 2010. See the entire list of stimulus projects in Montana.

Even more important than being a leader in energy conservation, however, is the savings in energy-related costs associated with these upgrades. Montana, and many states, are using stimulus funds the proper way: on "shovel-ready" projects that reduce our dependence on energy, create new jobs, make our state buildings more efficient and save money in the future.

Schweitzer's final tally for stimulus projects is estimated at $21.738 million, according state Department of Environmental Quality information issued by the governor's spokeswoman, Sarah Elliott.

The most important figure presented on that list, however, is the $1.762 million in annual savings these upgrades will produce.

That's a nearly 12-year turnaround on the investment. Moreover, it's $1.762 million in taxpayer money saved every year because of it.

In a severe recession where state revenue figures continue to plummet, that taxpayer money is going to be as critical as ever.