Energy efficiency program under fire

HOUSTON 13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino sheds some light on what's happening here in the City of Houston.

Uncle Fester could provide more power, but it's President Obama who claims he'll cut power bills for tens of thousands of needy families. Of course, taxpayers will foot the $5 billion bill.

"Once again, it's the government getting into a business that they don't need to be getting into," said Mike Sullivan of Houston City Council.

Mike Gerber of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs said, "Whether you agreed with stimulus fund or disagreed, no matter what your philosophy is, they're here."

But seven months after the speech, not a single Texas home has been weatherized with stimulus money. Not a dime spent on light bulbs, ceiling fans, insulation, or refrigerators.

"We're not going to take risks with these dollars," said Gerber.

Part of the delay is making sure Texas and other states can actually manage to spend all that money efficiently.

"The problem and challenge now is that you're going from a $13 million program to a $327 million program," said Gerber.

That's why we've been shedding light on the city's energy efficiency program. Like why the city is paying nine dollars for a light bulb when you could buy it for two bucks at Home Depot.

The city says it was a low bid contract, but do we really need to pay a government contractor to screw in free light bulbs?

"That's how you avoid problems like the $10,000 toilets of old," said Gerber. "There are going to be a different set of rules the city is going to have to adhere to."

That will mean an end to spending the money the way Houston Mayor Bill White has been spending it: in handpicked neighborhoods where 50 percent of the homes met the guidelines.

We watched as city contractors weather-stripped a door and caulk the pipes of one home, but it was hard not to notice the big screen TVs, or that the homeowner hadn't bothered to change the filter in the house for a very long time.

"I have blue-collar, hard-working families that will never be able to get a free refrigerator or buy one ceiling fan, much less five of them, and no one will come to their home and do anything for free," said Sullivan.

The city now spends about $1,000 a house, but under the federal stimulus bill up to $6,500 can now be spent on a single home. Issa DaDoush will be in charge of spending the millions in the city.

When we asked him if he thought spending that much money on a house is overkill, DaDoush replied, "It is. For $6,500, we can do six homes."

By 2012 the state hopes to weatherize 38,000 homes. But will it really save or create 87,000 new jobs across the country?

"It's interesting math and we don't do math here. What we do is management to make sure these dollars get out in an accountable way," said Gerber.

Will it do what Mayor White claims?

"By cutting demand for power, we reduce the need for new power plants. And that means cleaner air," claimed Mayor White in a TV ad.

Because we can't count on Uncle Fester.

We'll all pay for this wave of weatherization, but only families making less than $44,000 are eligible for the home makeover.

Want to get in on the Green Government giveaway? Here's a link to the city's program and a link to the state's program.

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