in Houston, Texas
President’s jobs council disbands; economist: ‘I didn't even remember we had one’
Friday, Feb 01, 2013, 04:37PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
White House

Grief-stricken that after spending $7.66 trillion to get us going again our economy is shrinking and our unemployment is growing, I turned this week to a last thread of hope, the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Only to find out the President decided Thursday to break up that old jobs council of mine. Well, no reporter worth his salt is going to sit back with his feet propped up on his desk smoking his meerschaum and not ask why.

In the late morning, I put in a call to the media departments for the two Texas members of the council, Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, and Matthew Rose, CEO for BNSF Railway, who doesn’t live too far from me here in Austin.

And then I set about to do some digging. As anyone who cares about our economy recalls, President Obama issued an executive order in January of 2011 calling on some of our most powerful business people to:

“continue to strengthen the Nation's economy and ensure the competitiveness of the United States and to create jobs, opportunity, and prosperity for the American people by ensuring the availability of non partisan advice to the President from participants in and experts on the economy...”

While the makeup of the committee might have been a little too Ivy League and Wall Street for a Texan’s taste, you couldn’t argue with council’s pedigree. And they got right to work, or certainly said they were going to get right to work.

Groups of council members decamped for “listening and action sessions” around the country. Council members including Kelly and Rose told an audience at Southern Methodist University on Sept. 1, 2011, that if the government was going to spend a lot of  money to get the economy going again, you could do worse than to invest in infrastructure.

By the end of the year, the council had kicked out a swell report Road Map to Renewal, although its recommendations for the future - fostering innovation, preparing the workforce for a global economy, investing in alternative energy and infrastructure - sounded a lot like talking points for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The council met only four times, the last time on Jan. 17, 2012, at the White House. There is no 2012 report on the website, and one wonders with the dissolution of the council whether there will be one.

Seems like more than a few people wondered why, exactly, the President formed the jobs council in the first place.

To calculate the impact the council had on the economy, the Marketplace website asked economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution what he thought of the President’s decision to shut down it down. "Well, as probably more than one economist would remark to you,” Burtless said, “I didn't even remember we had one.”

By this time, much of the afternoon had flown by without my knowing what the Texas delegation to the council thought of their work. I looked on the Internet in vain for comments from either of them.

Deadline fast approached, when Chris Mainz, a spokesman for Kelly, replied by e-mail to my request.

“Thanks for reaching out, “ Mainz wrote. “Gary is out of pocket, and I won’t be able to get you a comment for your deadline. We don’t have a canned one to send. Sorry we can’t help out with this story.”

We can only hope Kelly can’t be reached because he’s in a garret somewhere finishing up his part of Road Map to Renewal: 2012.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of the White House by flickr user DuckofD3ath, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas props up wind, solar with hundreds of millions of dollars per year, lawmakers cautious on more $
Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013, 03:55PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
wind turbines

With a nearly $1 billion federal renewable energy tax credit in doubt, Texas Rep. Mark Strama delivered what to another audience would have been an odd message.

Strama, an Austin Democrat, is an energy guy, a technology guy, whip smart and a little unpredictable. Invited to give the keynote address to the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association on Dec. 12 at a resort hotel south of Austin, Strama drew a few gasps admitting he supports hydraulic fracturing. Safe and clean hydraulic fracturing, of course.

Mark StramaMark Strama

But the product of that technology, abundant, inexpensive natural gas, was not necessarily a good thing, Strama told the group. Rather than pouring some of the windfall into new energy technology, utilities are providing a palliative, allowing millions of people to pocket their utility savings.

The not so simple truth, Strama said, is that after all of the billions of tax dollars that have been spent no one is any closer to knowing when the wind, solar and biofuels industries can survive without government subsidy.

What’s more, Congress’ reluctant decision to extend the renewable energy tax credit, and for only one year, may be a signal that in an age of cheap natural gas there isn’t the political will to ask ratepayers or taxpayers for more renewables support.

Renewable energy played almost no role in the presidential election dialogue. The energy tax credit passed with no outcry outside of the political class.

Of the roughly 600 bills filed through the end of the second week of the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature, just two contain the phrase renewable energy. One of them, a bill by Strama, is specific to the city of Pflugerville.

The other, House Bill 303, calls for the state to require utilities to get 35 percent of their generating capacity from renewables, two percent of it from solar energy, by Jan. 1, 2020.

The bill, written by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, like similar bills in the past two sessions, is likely to go nowhere. Rodriguez chose not to respond to calls and a list of several questions about the bill and renewable energy e-mailed to him by Texas Watchdog.

Strama won’t be offering any major renewable subsidy bill in this session.

“Honestly, a lot of the work I’m going to be doing is to protect what we already have now,” Strama said. “This is just not a priority issue to most people right now.”

Perhaps it isn’t a priority to most people because, at least in the abstract, they like the idea of supporting renewable energy. In 2009 the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation in Austin surveyed 993 registered voters, 85 percent of whom thought Texas needed to increase production of wind and solar power. Nearly 80 percent, 73 percent who identified themselves as conservative, supported the idea of subsidies, loans and tax incentives to those energy businesses.

In November, a national survey from the Texas A&M Energy Institute and the Bush School of Government and Public Service found 59 percent of the public for increasing renewable research and development funding and 60 percent supporting tax breaks for companies developing renewable energy technology.

But if all that funding and those tax breaks meant the price of gas going up at their local pump, the survey said nearly 70 percent would change their answer.

A public intolerant of an increase of a few pennies they can see is a public historically oblivious to its donation of billions of dollars it doesn’t see. In November, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin, estimated Texas would contribute $567 million a year on the renewable energy tax credit alone.

In their study, Josiah Neeley, policy analyst with the Armstrong Center on Energy & the Environment and Bill Peacock, director of the Center for Economic Freedom for the Foundation, drilled deeper.

Overall, including federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, wind, solar and other alternative energy got $7.1 billion of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies since 2006.

The Public Utility Commission last year made way for a nearly $7 billion project at utility ratepayer expense to run electricity transmission lines from West Texas wind farms to urban centers where the generation would be used.

Since 2006, $2.46 billion has supported development of wind farms in something called Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, the study says. The zones were made possible when the Legislature in 2001 passed the Texas Economic Development Act.

Federal grants have pumped another $1.65 billion into wind farms, $290 million from the stimulus for various energy programs, including $52 million for more than 30 solar projects, several of them that will not pay for themselves for 50 or more years.

The cost of supporting the legal requirement that utilities purchase a percentage of renewable energy set by the Renewable Portfolio Standard is estimated to have cost power users an extra $69 million this past year, Neeley and Peacock contend.

The Legislature created the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, which has since 2005 devoted $44 million to  renewable energy-related projects, according to the Governor’s Renewable Energy Industry Report. Two years earlier, lawmakers passed the Texas Enterprise Fund which has invested nearly $5 million in renewable energy projects.

Lucy Nashed, Gov. Rick Perry’s spokeswoman, said, “Here in Texas, we strive toward an all-of-the-above strategy to address our state’s energy challenges and create a diverse and robust electric generating portfolio that uses a variety of sources, including traditional technologies such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, and newer technologies such as wind, clean coal and solar power.”

However, Nashed says Perry favors weaning the entire energy industry off industry-specific credits and subsidies while lowering taxes on domestic energy producers.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation feels the same way, only more so.

Josiah NeeleyJosiah Neeley

“Our message has been very clear,” Neeley said, “we’d like to see no government support for any energy industry and want to see no new energy supports. If natural gas or wind is doing well we’d like it to be due to the work of the market, not the government.”

The numbers suggest wind and solar still need the work of the government to have a hope in the market. With subsidies it currently costs $22 per megawatt hour to produce electricity with wind, 44 cents to produce it with fossil fuels, Neeley says.

Although power generation rates and costs are different for every utility, a customer with Austin Energy can choose to “buy” only renewable power through its GreenChoice program at a cost of 5.7 cents a kilowatt hour compared to the normal rate of 3.4 cents.

The average GreenChoice customer pays $23 more a month, Austin Energy says.

Forecasts by the Electric Power Research Institute show that while wind and solar are getting more competitive, they are unlikely to come close to natural gas at least through 2025. (Please see charts on pages 1-11 and 1-12 of its report here.)

graphic1


Further lost in the tangle at the intersection of commerce and government is what all the incentives, particularly in the wind industry, do to the pricing of energy.

Wind companies have at times been able to sell their energy below the market price, knowing it must be bought by somebody, and still make a profit, a practice decried both in a study by the consultant NorthBridge group and Donna Nelson, chairwoman of the Texas Public Utility Commission.

Advocates, including Strama, acknowledge the wind and solar industries would collapse without taxpayer and ratepayer subsidy but contend that coal, oil and gas have been subsidized for 100 years, renewable energy for a few decades.

Neeley says the Energy Information Administration points out that in 2010 renewable energy generates less than 10 percent of the energy in the country but gobbles up 55 percent of the subsidies. Fossil fuels are responsible for 70 percent of the generation while taking 16 percent of all energy subsidies.

Neeley says the public ought to be concerned that in an energy market commanded by already low prices for natural gas, artificial pricing for renewable sources will cut further into profits.

“In the long term there is a real threat to investment by the industry,” Neeley says. “If you can bid onto the grid at negative prices, nobody is making any money.”

“I don’t think the public has a good grasp of what is in their energy bill,” Fred Beach, with the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, says. “They have a very poor appreciation of who pays for what in energy generation. There is a need for much greater transparency.”

Beach refers to himself as a technologist, someone paid to examine the role of science and technology in energy policy. An opponent of direct government investment in renewable energy, Beach is, nonetheless, in favor of utilities meeting state standards for renewable energy use, however they do it.

Like Strama, Beach considers natural gas a low-cost bridge fuel to help consumers and the industry along while wind and solar technologies are improved.

“Right now, I think it’s a bridge to nowhere, an opportunity being wasted,” Beach says. “The industry doesn’t need that much more help. And I’m not a big fan of the government spending yours and my tax money. I am in favor of regulation that says meet this standard. We don’t care how you get there.”

Beach said energy consumers are further hurt by renewable policies pushing large-scale development of wind and solar power with a power plant model developed for coal more than 100 years ago.

Wind technology is ideal for large-scale generation. Solar power, at least today, is best suited to individual arrays on top of homes and businesses, Beach says.

This hasn’t stopped CPS Energy in San Antonio from going forward with a $1 billion, 400-megawatt solar development or Austin Energy considering a plan to have ratepayers underwrite $750 million to increase the city’s total solar power generation by 50 times by 2020.

San Antonio, with Democratic Mayor Julián Castro’s enthusiastic support, is resisting what Colin Meehan calls a “sugar rush” of low natural gas prices that cannot last.

Meehan, an energy analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, objects to criticism of renewable energy development rooted in the present. Wind and solar power continue to get cheaper.

Nor is Meehan patient with the idea that the Legislature is incapable of big thinking when it comes to renewables. In 2009 the House and Senate passed a $500 million plan by former Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, to offer rebates to individuals and companies to install solar arrays.

The bill, however, died over a procedural disagreement as the session expired. No similar bill has been introduced since.

This fall, when the Environmental Defense Fund joined several other groups in asking that the Public Utility Commission on its own order utilities to increase their renewable percentages, the commission refused the petition.

Strama says he believes the window of opportunity to attract promising solar businesses has closed. Renewable energy industry leaders, in particular wind energy, are predicting a very quiet 2013.

In recognition of the reduced circumstances, Strama says he intends to introduce a bill that would have ratepayers underwrite the construction of solar arrays on public school rooftops.

The same bill in the 2011 session never made it out of Calendars Committee.

In his speech to the Texas Renewables Energy Industry Association, Strama said he thought the Legislature was further from its renewable goals than five years ago. Still, he remained confident technology would eventually do the only thing that could sustain renewable energy: lower prices.

“We’ve been providing energy from coal on an enormous scale for 100 years,” Strama said. “Nothing you could say would convince me we won’t someday be able to provide renewable energy on an enormous scale.

“People are right to ask about a timetable. We don’t have a timetable.”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photos of wind turbines by flickr users nikkorsnapper and and the russians are here, used via Creative Commons licenses.

Texas wind power companies reap tax breaks from fiscal cliff deal
Thursday, Jan 03, 2013, 01:29PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
wind farm

Look! Up there! Just off the precipice of the terrifying fiscal cliff! It’s a taxpayer built and outfitted Deltaplane carrying the Texas wind power industry to safety.

And lined up behind it on the cliff are hang gliders for such deserving and needy industries as Puerto Rican rum producers, electric scooters, Coca Cola and Hollywood.

Congress is launching this flying armada under the cover of whatever unspeakable horrors might have been visited upon Americans had it not bravely stepped in at the very last minute to protect random and profligate spending, the Washington Post reports today.

Among the leaders in this glorious formation are companies that will receive a tax credit valued at about $12 billion for beginning construction of wind farms sometime in 2013. Texas, the leading wind power-producing state in the nation, will be the chief beneficiary of the 2.2 cents-a-kilowatt-hour of projected energy production tax credit, Bloomberg is reporting.

As Texas Watchdog has reported, the entire wind power industry in Texas had for months been cowering in fear that Congress would not extend a tax credit that has been crucial to its life support for 20 years.

Just how crucial? Bloomberg says the tax credit uncertainty alone caused projections of putting wind turbines online in 2013 to drop to 4,800 megawatts of power from 11,800 megawatts estimated in 2012.

With its ability to embed sleeper cells of questionable taxpayer spending well established in bills like the stimulus and Obamacare, Congress set out to keep a $14 billion tax credit for research and development and $11 billion for financial services companies to shelter income earned overseas from certain financial transactions, the Post says.

Compared to those, what is $222 million to help prop up the rum industry in American territories? Or $78 million to help auto racing better compete with amusement parks for your hard-earned dollar? The $7 million for the Oregon scooter makers is almost nothing.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, disagreed, preferring to keep his fiscal cliff rescue metaphor grounded.

“These are like the cockroaches of the policy world,” Ellis told the Post.  “You think they’re dead, and then they come back.”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of wind turbines by flickr user the russians are here, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas couple fit to be tied in red tape, stimulus weatherization cash more trouble than it was worth
Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012, 09:49AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
light bulb

Viewed in one very particular way, carefully following the bureaucratic contours of a $327 million stimulus energy efficiency program, the weatherization of Brandi and Byron Hockaday’s south Austin home is a success story.

Rules and guidelines were followed. Contractors and inspectors returned again and again to check the work. And when things weren’t right Austin Energy made them right at its own expense. And none of it, or almost none of it, cost the Hockadays a dime.

And yet, after more than two years and well over $14,000 spent, no one involved, least of all the Hockadays, believes they should have gotten involved with the federal weatherization assistance program in the first place.

On Oct. 31, after the latest of dozens of complaints, Austin Energy customer service representative Ann Salerno put an official end to its relationship with the Hockadays.

“For many months while assisting you, Austin Energy has exceeded its role as the involved electric utility,” Salerno said in a letter, one of a fistful Brandi holds in her hand on the sofa in their living room. “Austin Energy staff has gone above and beyond its obligations, and, at this point, there is nothing else Austin Energy can do to assist.”

But what about the gas line left exposed and running right alongside the air conditioning line in the bedroom wall? The positive test for mold? And the incessant cycling of an air conditioning system that is supposed to be the best in the industry?

All of the contractor errors, the unexpected visits to fix things that never got fixed. The arguing that one time nearly led to a fistfight. The derision and condescension from at least one of the Austin Energy officials.

“They damaged our house, they put our family in danger and they’ve repeatedly said we need to be done with this,” Byron says, unable to stay seated next to Brandi. “That’s what’s flooring us here. We’re tired of this shit.”

Spend five minutes with the Hockadays, and you are convinced tired isn’t at all the right word. They have painstakingly filed every document - paper and electronic - generated by their case. They recorded phone calls with workers, contracting supervisors and Austin Energy program leaders. They’re already tag-teaming their latest contractor.

The Hockadays aren’t tired by a long shot.

Pulling up to the Hockadays’ home in a neat, middle-class neighborhood, it is difficult to grasp how, indeed, they ever got involved in the program.

There is an older model, silver Jaguar in the Hockadays’ driveway of a nicely maintained 1,400-square-foot home.

Brandi and Byron HockadayBrandi and Byron Hockaday

The Hockadays built this house themselves in 1999. Both of them had good-paying jobs with a commercial printing company until day care costs for their two children made it more cost effective for one of them to stay home.

“We flipped a coin, and I became Mr. Mom,” Byron says. “It worked out because I wanted to get my own mobile IT business started.”

It worked out until June of 2010 when Brandi was laid off after 13 years with the company. In an economy that a congressional majority thought only a nearly $1 trillion stimulus could help, the Hockadays’ combined work experience came from an industry in decline.

Brandi started investigating and found that the family now qualified for food stamps. They enrolled the children in Medicaid for their health care. And when she went to the Austin Energy website she spotted a house ad for a “Free Energy Program.”

She filled out a two-page application sometime in late July.

The program the ad referred to was part of the Weatherization Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Energy's $5 billion contribution to the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The goal of the program was to help low-income Americans save money on their monthly bills by making their homes more energy efficient at no cost to them.

Joseph Guerrero, now the weatherization program coordinator for Austin Energy, says his company dispatched the inspector based, according to the program’s guidelines, on little more than the Hockadays’ current combined income.

An interview with the Hockadays, a visit to the home, past earnings, the value of the home, even the Jaguar in the driveway was not part of the calculation, he says.

“We had no authority to question any of it. It’s not arbitrary,” Guerrero says. “Had we denied it for any of those reasons, you can bet TDHCA would have been notified.”

On August 4 an inspector came to the Hockaday home and did a series of energy tests.

“On his way out the door, he told us it was one of the nicest homes he had been in since he started doing the inspections,” Brandi says. “He said, if anything, we’d probably be eligible for low-energy light bulbs.”

Unknown to the Hockadays at the time, Austin Energy was under threat of having its $5.9 million stimulus grant yanked by the state Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Texas Watchdog reported Austin Energy had managed to weatherize just 56 homes in the 18 months since the stimulus bill passed. Only four of the 44 agencies in the weatherization program had done fewer homes.

In the first year of the stimulus contractors statewide had spent $3.7 million, mostly on administrative costs, and had weatherized a total of 47 houses. Program directors from all over the state complained they were under tremendous pressure by Housing and Community Affairs to spend their stimulus grants.

"Is time running out for this program? Absolutely," state program director Michael Gerber said of Austin Energy at the time. "We will de-obligate funds before we let one penny of this funding go unspent."

Two months after the initial inspection, Robert Meredith, the owner of a second contractor, Go Green Squads, came to the Hockadays’ door with good news. The initial tests showed they qualified for a new air conditioning system.

The air conditioning system they had was working fine, Byron says. The inside unit had been replaced in 2008, and the outer unit had been repaired in the past couple of years, he said.

Meredith, Byron says, pressed them to decide. A new energy-efficient system would help them realize hundreds of dollars in savings.

“He said we were about to lose this if we didn’t decide and that we had to get this done,” Byron says. “My initial reaction,” Brandi says, finishing his thought, “was ‘Wow. Awesome.’ Byron’s reaction was, don’t muck around with it. I love my AC. Byron gave in.”

A ‘deceptively complex’ government program

The decision to install a new air conditioning system in the Hockaday home was based on calculations punched into thresholds set by the federal government, nothing more, Guerrero says.

At no time did Austin Energy officials issue a directive to speed up or increase spending on the units they were weatherizing, he says.

Susan Meredith, Meredith’s wife and the company’s co-owner, says Austin Energy gave the company 10 days from the time a work order was generated to start work. Never did Austin Energy call for spending over and above that recommended on the work orders, she says.

On Oct. 8, 2010, Go Green Squads installed an new air conditioning system and thermostats. The $2,433.27 in expenses was paid for by the federal program, which allowed for a maximum of $6,500 to be spent on each housing unit.

“And for nine months we thought it was the best program in the world,” Brandi says. “We felt like we won the lottery.”

Until the day Byron came home and felt warm. The Hockadays regularly set their thermostat at 75 degrees. The temperature read 77 degrees, and to get there the air conditioning unit was running for hours at a time without cycling off.

Thus began a series of calls and responses from contract workers. They did temperature readings. Had Byron seal and insulate his attic door. The ductwork was checked. The plenum, an air circulation chamber in the attic, was rebuilt. Several times.

During these months of trial and error, the Hockadays reported condensation on their vents and a musty smell in the house.

Around one of the openings in the attic, Byron found black soot he thought was mold. The contractors insisted it be referred to as a mold-like substance. In January of this year the Hockadays had tests done that determined the mold-like substance was mold.

At the same time, the Hockadays’ monthly utility bills were now exceeding the bills for the same months with their old air conditioning system.

In the absence of solutions, Byron offered troubleshooting suggestions like checking the coil that were routinely ignored, he says. It seemed as though the workmen were going through the same motions again and again. During one visit insults were exchanged and challenges made before Byron and a crew member could be calmed down.

“They were coming here all the time, all different times of day. They’d never call, they’d just show up. Then they never did anything. It was like watching monkeys hump a football,” Byron says.

From then on, Brandi systematically worked her way up alerting the chain of command at Austin Energy to their problems.

On Dec. 20, 2011, Austin Energy ordered another full inspection of the home and followed it with a systematic retracing of all the steps that had so far bedeviled the other contractors.

But not until March 20, 2012, did the company reach the conclusion that the air conditioning system installed by Go Green Squads needed to be replaced. The coil Byron had been pointing to was designed for a four-ton air conditioning system. It had been trying to cool the house in a three-ton system.

“There definitely was a problem with the system,” Susan Meredith says. “And we were very committed to fixing their system. But there are so many different factors involved. That is why I say this is a deceptively complex program.”

Austin Energy decided that it wouldn’t be Go Green Systems but McCullough Heating and Air Conditioning that would install not only a new air conditioning system but a new furnace.

The cost, $8,604.81, was more than three times the first system. The company did some additional calculating and cut two checks to the Hockadays totalling $453.58, an estimate of the cost of the additional energy consumed by the old system.

In all, Austin Energy turned over just $3,000 in bills for the Hockaday work to Housing and Community Affairs for federal reimbursement. Austin Energy assumed the rest.

Guerrero said he didn’t want the blot on a program he is proud of.

“I thought it was in the interest of everyone involved that we change out the equipment for a new system,” Guerrero says. “Our goal was to satisfy a customer who had some extreme concerns. I think that by looking at the facts of the case alone, this was not a normal course of business for us.”

By the overall standard of Austin Energy work, the Hockadays weren’t normal business. Of the 1,886 units weatherized with stimulus funds, Austin Energy went over the $6,500 budget 13 times, a check of the records by Texas Watchdog showed.

Nine of the thirteen were total bills under $7,000, one of them over the limit by 83 cents.

Despite its slow start and by the decidedly low standard set by a program beset throughout with administrative incompetence, poor workmanship and allegations of fraud Austin Energy was a solid performer.

(You can track the program’s performance and that of all the other local programs in the Weatherization Assistance Program in charts provided here.)

Once threatened with a loss of funding, Housing and Community Affairs eventually shifted more than $3 million more from laggard programs to Austin Energy. The program spent all but $1,100 of its $9.2 million, Guerrero says.

And while Texas Watchdog tracked a rather dismal record of workmanship problems statewide, Austin Energy performed better than most. (You can examine the results of eight spot inspections of contractor work done by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs did over two years here.)

“One house out of all those we worked on is a pretty good record, I think,” Guerrero says.

Utility: Responsibilities fulfilled

But what of the record at that one house?

In the weeks that followed, the Hockadays discovered a water buildup in a garage ceiling that showered water and sopping drywall on computer hardware Byron had stored there. Negotiation with the contractor for reimbursement came to an impasse when the Hockadays wouldn’t surrender the hard drives for replacement.

McCullough tracked the moisture problem and in July rebuilt the plenum, return and filter system.

The installation of the air conditioning system, Byron says, has juxtaposed an air line unsafely with a gas line running to the new furnace. The Hockadays have demanded an inspection. McCullough insists they already deemed the parallel lines safe.

The Hockaday home gets cool, with digital thermostats festooning the house to prove it. But Byron swears this new, top-of-the-line energy efficient air conditioner still cycles for hours.

It is December, and in the cool weather the Hockadays can’t be sure, but all of that cycling, Byron says, isn’t going to save them any money come summer.

And if something more should go wrong, Austin Energy has said it won’t be coming around any more.

In the hundreds of units done by Go Green Squads as one of the six contractors used by Austin Energy, Susan Meredith says she never experienced anything like the Hockadays.

Understanding the cold calculating of eligibility and rehabilitation, Meredith still wonders if this program ought to have been serving a family like the Hockadays. She thinks the couple knew what they were doing, that they “gamed the system.”

Austin Energy and its contractors, she says, were caught in the classic quandary: Was there too much government or not enough government?

“In hindsight we shouldn’t have bent over backwards,” she says. “We spent so many hundreds of dollars we didn’t bill for trying to make them happy. All we did was create a bigger problem.”

The weatherization assistance program, at least at the start, would not allow anyone to walk away from the Hockadays, Guerrero says. Austin Energy, he says, has more than fulfilled its responsibilities.

The Hockadays do not believe that. It takes them nearly three hours on the sofa to tell their story, and only because they are forced to leave out all sorts of details. The Hockadays are consumed by the details.

Brandi is working again, at home and as a virtual assistant at a fraction of her old salary, she says. Byron is still working to make a go of his business. Their combined income, Brandi says, would easily make them eligible for the Weatherization Assistance Program if it were available today.

Knowing what they know now, the Hockadays say they would have never applied. But having done it, having gone through it, they aren’t about to give up.

“From the time we applied, all we expected them to do is do their job right,” Byron says. “That’s all we asked all along. I don’t think that’s too much to expect. Do you?”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of light bulb by flickr user ikewinski, used via a Creative Commons license. Photo and video of the Hockadays by Mark Lisheron.

Creative Commons License
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Texas lawmakers push for customer opt-out from smart meters
Thursday, Dec 06, 2012, 01:12PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
smart meter

After seven years and hundreds of millions of dollars in utility rate increases, Texas legislators are coming to the conclusion that maybe smart meters aren’t for everyone.

Please remind us again how the word “smart” ever got attached to this program?

The Public Utility Commission has indicated it might consider allowing some of the 6.2 million customers who were not given the same courtesy when utilities installed the meters of superior intelligence to say no thanks, the Houston Chronicle’s website Fuel Fix reports.

And if the commission fails to act, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, and state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, have vowed to file bills to force the commission to think again.

This is the same Rep. Bonnen who convinced the Legislature in 2005 to force the commission to come up with a statewide plan to put a smart meter rather than a chicken in every pot in Texas.

This wonder of technology allowed our state government to do what it does best: act with utter certitude in the public good and back it with the public’s money.

Smart meters would provide digital readings giving ratepayers control over their own energy use, day and night, according to AEP Texas. Customers would save money on their utility bills and the reliability of the meters would greatly reduce service fees. Meter readers would be a thing of the past, AEP says.

Never believing in grizillion years that anyone might object, utilities began implementing the Public Utility Commission plan as rapidly as possible, according to the Legislature’s Public Utility Regulatory Act .

CenterPoint Energy in Houston installed 2.2 million smart meters and added $3.24 a month to the bills of the grateful customers who received them.

The monthly fee was reduced by 19 cents when the U.S. Department of Energy chipped in $200 million in taxpayer money to CenterPoint’s smart meter program.

The grant was part of a $3.5 billion national smart meter giveaway that was part of the $862 billion funding fest known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. And everyone except some very esteemed American economists know how that worked out.

While the Utility Regulatory Act doesn’t specifically instruct utilities to ram the legislation down the throats of customers, CenterPoint like the other major players contended that they needed “100 percent deployment in order for the smart meter to be effective,” spokeswoman Alicia Dixon told Fuel Fix.

The program was most effective in galvanizing a disparate group of Texans who shared a common hatred for smart meters. More than 650 groups and individuals have filed complaints with the Public Utility Commission.

According to the non-profit StopSmartMeters.org customers across the country found the new meters were smart enough to produce higher monthly utility bills with no explanation why.

Customers dislike the government installing an information gathering device without consent in their home, the site says.

Smart meters, the site contends, are health, environmental and safety hazards.

“Thousands of people have complained of tinnitus, headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, heart arrhythmia, and other symptoms after a ‘smart’ meter was installed.

“There is also emerging evidence that wireless, non-ionizing radiation harms wildlife and damages trees. There have been direct reports of how smart meters affect vital bee populations.

“A number of electrical fires have been caused by ‘smart’ meters.”

Dennis BonnenDennis Bonnen

Bonnen, in a kind-of “just kidding” moment, told Fuel Fix his legislation was supposed to have been a welcoming law, inviting customers to experience the wonders of smart meters. “Never was it presented as something that would be forcibly deployed,” he says.

It is now up to the Public Utility Commission to decide whether it will follow regulatory Bonnen or champion of the people Bonnen. Something has got be done about the malcontents. “But that shouldn’t be an excuse to let the PUC off the hook,” Bonnen told Fuel Fix.

The only people entitled to be more confused than the commissioners are the millions of Texans paying for the right to be part of Smart Meter Nation.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of smart meter by flickr user akpoff, used via a Creative Commons license.

After $2.75 million boost from Texas taxpayers, Houston bioenergy co. Terrabon files for bankruptcy
Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012, 10:55AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
corn field

From the looks of it your state and federal governments are competing to see which can produce the most technology business failures with your tax money.

Terrabon Inc., a Houston bioenergy company that was able to get up and running with 2.75 million tax dollars scrounged up in 2010 from the state Emerging Technology Fund, has filed for bankruptcy, Associated Press is reporting today.

Terrabon is the fourth and biggest tanking - the second in just four months - since the state began betting with your money on technology-based startups in 2006, AP says.

The federal government, which counts its technology crapshoots in the hundreds of millions of tax dollars, crapped out again last week when A123 Systems Inc., a manufacturer of electric car batteries, went all Chapter 11 on us.

That’s a $250 million stimulus grant the American public isn’t going to see again. Along with the now infamous Solyndra, Abound Solar, Beacon Power Corp., and EnerDel, the federal government has now helped steer $1.23 billion in tax money into legal liquidation. (Please see this helpful chart of stimulus flops here.)

Terrabon’s death dive brings to $5.25 million the taxpayer investment losses heaped up by the Emerging Technology Fund. In May, NanoTailor Inc. of Austin, went down taking $250,000 with it.

The Emerging Technology Fund has in the past been criticized as a pet project of Gov. Rick Perry’s to assist business people whose political support he has curried. The fund is also a rather expensive way to create jobs in Texas.

The state Auditor was harshly critical of the Governor’s Office in a lengthy report in April 2011 for its lack of monitoring of the fund and for withholding of investment information from the public.

But we’ll leave it to William Aulet, managing director of the entrepreneurship center at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, to state the obvious, as he did for the Boston Globe: “Yes, the government is a bad venture capitalist.”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of a corn field by flickr user Dodo-Bird, used via a Creative Commons license.

Overweight? Smoke? Uncle Sam wants to help. Wellness programs started under 2009 federal stimulus persist, getting fatter with $1 billion in health care law
Monday, Sep 17, 2012, 10:29AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
scale

Months after the grant that brought it to life ran out, Live Tobacco-Free Austin lives on.

Like many of the wellness programs started with $372.8 million in stimulus funding, Live Tobacco-Free Austin secured a new federal grant before the old one had run out and retained most of the staff hired to run the program.

Contrary to the billing of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a one-time infusion, the smoking and obesity programs branded Communities Putting Prevention to Work were never meant to be orphaned.

While hundreds of new hires were spending hundreds of millions in advance of a March 2012 spending deadline, advocates were busy embedding promises for billions more in something called the Prevention and Public Health Fund created with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

The fund is expected to spread $1 billion around to wellness programs this year and increasing every year after to $2 billion by 2016.

To augment that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began the Community Transformation Grant program, pouring $103 million into wellness programs, several, including $1 million for Austin’s smoking program, started through Communities Putting Prevention to Work.

The Texas Department of State Health Services received a $10 million Transformation Grant for its wellness programs.

Michael MarlowMichael Marlow

Michael Marlow, a California Polytechnic State University economics professor who has written critically on obesity and smoking crusades for the Cato Institute, says this sort of government paternalism is meant to be self-perpetuating.

“You have a one-size-fits-all approach to multi-faceted problems,” Marlow says. “There is no such thing as a temporary solution, just more money for more solutions.”

In the early part of 2010, about a year after the stimulus bill was passed, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department filed two of what would be 263 applications for Putting Prevention to Work through the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC made 44 awards, including $7.5 million for a smoking program for Austin, rejecting its application for an equal amount for an obesity program. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District was the only other Texas agency to get a grant, $15.6 million to combat obesity.

Los Angeles County got the largest grants, for smoking and obesity programs, $32.1 million; New York City got $31.1 million; Seattle/King County got $25.5 million; and Philadelphia, $25.4 million.

Cassandra Deleon had been working for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services when she applied for and was hired, along with eight others, to manage the Austin smoking program.

The grant was the largest of its kind secured by Austin/Travis County, and Deleon says staff saw in it a tremendous opportunity to change the social norms around smoking.

There was one problem. For years tobacco was a potent political issue in Austin, but with the passage of what was, in 2005, one of the strongest local anti-smoking ordinances in the country a kind of exhaustion set in.

Austin spent about $1 million incorporating tobacco use data into the medical records of its hospital and clinic partners, Deleon says.The program set up the Live Tobacco-Free Austin website. The Ash Trailer - a vintage Airstream covered entirely with ash trays - was designed for public service appearances, she says.

Most of the funding, about $3 million, went into a radio, television and billboard campaign touting the benefits of living tobacco-free.

Deleon says she is pleased with how they deployed the grant money. The community transformation grant is testimony to the commitment to fight smoking, she says.

But this kind of program, she says, resists efforts to correlate spending with fewer people using tobacco. “We’re in the process of collecting data and, of course, were hoping for a reduction in tobacco use across the board,” Deleon says. “It’s more like that what we’ll be able to track is awareness of our live tobacco-free message.”

This is an example of the diminishing return on the money spent getting people to give up tobacco, Marlow says. After billions in federal, state and local subsidies, hundreds of thousands of tobacco-related deaths, punitive ordinances and prohibitive taxes on cigarettes, more than 45 million adults choose to continue to smoke, according to CDC figures.

“After all that’s been done, people who smoke know it’s unhealthy,” Marlow says. “Continuing to tell them that is not giving them any new information. But that isn’t going to stop the paternalists from spending money on what is no longer effective.”

There is evidence that smoking cessation programs will have to fight for funding with obesity, the new darling of federal wellness. The CDC made $230 million in obesity grants, compared to $142.8 million for smoking through the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program.

San Antonio, which has found itself on several of those much anticipated lists of the nation’s fattest cities, was an ideal candidate for its obesity grant, by far the largest single grant ever awarded to the Health Department, Christine Rutherford-Stuart, assistant director for the Community Health Division, says.

Unlike Austin, San Antonio’s bid for a Community Transformation grant was turned down. After an extension runs out and the $15.6 million is spent, the last of 13 people hired through the stimulus will be let go, Rutherford-Stuart says.

Assuming the one-time windfall wouldn’t come again, San Antonio spent nearly half of its money on bike and walking lanes and outdoor fitness equipment for parks and libraries, infrastructure that could be maintained in the future by other municipal departments, she says.

A full quarter of the funding went to physical activity programs. Among them is Siclovia, an annual bicycling event modeled after a popular rally in Bogotá, Columbia. More than 15,000 people participated in the first Siclovia, 40,000 last year and 60,000 people are expected on Oct. 7, Rutherford-Stuart says.

Another 20 percent of the grant went into nutrition and health plans, including the installation of salad bars in 108 public and charter schools in the city.

Rutherford-Stuart says the YMCA, its partner for Siclovia, has agreed to continue funding the event in coming years. The Health Department is relying on partnerships to continue exercise, fitness and nutrition programs in the absence of the stimulus money, she says,

Having put all of this in place, Rutherford-Stuart says her department will be hard pressed to find proof of actual improvement in public health. Through questionnaires the department hopes it might be able to track changes in behavior.

“We’re happy for the opportunity to use the grant money, but it will be a huge challenge going forward.,” she says. “It took decades to get where we are in San Antonio and in this country with obesity. It’s going to take decades to alleviate the problem.”

obesity by stateSource: CDC

Data from the CDC suggests what has been done at the federal level since the turn of this century has not worked. The current obesity rate of 35 percent - meaning nearly 110 million Americans are obese - is the nation’s highest ever.

In 2000, no state had an obesity rate greater than 25 percent. Today, two dozen have rates between 25 and 30 percent and a dozen top 30 percent, the CDC says. In 2000, 27 states could claim obesity rates of less than 20 percent. In 2010, none could make the claim.

The federal response to this failure is to redouble its efforts and its funding, making it clear to what were once pilot Communities Putting Prevention to Work programs that money will be made available to do further battle with fatty foods.

After exhausting its stimulus grant, Los Angeles County got another $9.8 million from the Community Transformation fund. San Diego County spent its $16.1million stimulus grant on obesity and got another $3 million in transformational funds. Philadelphia, too, got another $1.5 million after spending $15 million on obesity and $10.4 million on smoking.

Amanda Dudley, spokesman for the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, says the CDC has no intention of continuing the Communities Putting Prevention to Work as a national program.

The agency, however, refers to the grant money available through the Affordable Care Act as CPPW Phase Two funding.

And although one of the primary goals of all stimulus programs was to create or retain jobs, Dudley was unable to say how many of those jobs CPPW created or retained or offer a generalized assessment of the impact the program had on government hiring.

Trying to count the jobs, she said, would be misleading because of the way Recovery.gov, the stimulus website tracking spending and job creation, collected the data.

Having also failed to negotiate Recovery.gov, Texas Watchdog contacted the recipients of the 10 largest CPPW smoking and obesity grants. Los Angeles County flatly declined to answer questions. Philadelphia officials said they were still analyzing what they had done with their grants. Four agencies did not respond to our inquiry.

What is clear from the four that responded - the Miami-Dade County Health Department, San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, the Seattle – King County Department of Public Health and the Southern Nevada Health District - was a commitment to continue on as long as the funding continued to come in.

Although almost all of its grant had been spent by July of this year, San Diego County hung onto all 13.7 full time equivalent positions, spokesman Michael Workman says.

A package of Community Transformation, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and other grants and some county money has kept 6.7 jobs alive in a program that has been renamed Healthy Works.

“The program is considered a cornerstone of the County of San Diego’s Live Well, San Diego!, a 10-year initiative to improve the lives of San Diegans through healthy, safe, and thriving communities,” Workman says.

The other seven CPPW employees were re-assigned to other jobs on the county payroll, Workman says.

By Seattle-King County’s calculation, its grant paid the salaries for 134 jobs in the Public Health Department and with the community partners who participated in the obesity and smoking programs, spokeswoman Kathryn Ross says.

Roughly two-thirds of the Public Health employees brought on with CPPW money are staying, Ross says, through a combination of federal grants, some foundation funds and the reallocation of money in the department budget.

A good share of the work will involve developing a plan to make the one-time grant program sustainable, she says.

Of the 12 people hired by the Miami-Dade County Health Department funding had been found to hold onto more employees, although spokeswoman Rosa Oses-Prealoni says they are hoping to find more funding to keep several others.

The work will continue through other entities funded at least in part through federal, state and local taxes, Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade County School Board, the City of Miami, and the City of North Miami and the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade.

Only in the Southern Nevada Health District, which kept its hiring to one person, was there an effort to make sure the CPPW money was spent on programs carried out largely by people already on staff, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore.

Regardless of the inability to account for or measure the effectiveness of these federal programs, which Marlow insists is dubious, the perception of crisis, in smoking and in obesity, creates an inertia difficult to halt.

“It’s a bottomless pit,” Marlow says, “and it will never stop.”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

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Photo of money by flickr user auntnanny, used via a Creative Commons license.

Documents show Circuit of the Americas wants $566K solar panel handout
Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012, 11:59AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
solar

We can’t be sure what is more surprising: that it took so long for Circuit of the Americas to ask for a half a million dollar Austin Energy solar power handout or that the public was able to find out about it.

Credit the Austin American-Statesman again for going after documents attesting to the request by the operators of a new Formula One racetrack in Travis County for no more than $566,200 over the next decade for a solar array.

The Statesman has tracked an agreement with the state for as much as $250 million in taxpayer funds to be returned to Circuit of the Americas for meeting certain sales tax goals in its first decade of operation.

Local government has offered up taxpayers as partners in two road expansions needed by the track. There may be other partnerships the public isn’t aware of because Circuit of the Americas would rather you didn’t know so much about their internal business affairs.

In exchange, the company has generously offered to pay some, but not all, of the expense to send Austin city officials on a Formula One fact-finding junket to England.

Showing a deep environmental commitment, Circuit of the Americas has a plan for a series of solar panels that could produce 330,000 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of power use for 28 average homes per year or 40 percent of the power needed for the track site -- when it isn’t in use.

It is a commitment forged by years of sending two dozen cars with engines getting five miles to the gallon for 190 miles around tracks all over the world.

Why else would a racing company have its own sustainability director?

Whether or not the company fulfills its grand commitment depends on the incentive, courtesy of Austin Energy rate payers, paid in advance, Edgar Farrera, the sustainability director, says.

As it did during the time of the Great Stimulus Giveaway of 2009, solar energy proved time and again its value as a taxpayer investment, with projects often paying for themselves in less than 75 years.

Austin Energy has entertained asking its rate payers to subsidize a $700-$800 million project to put solar panels on every major building in Austin.

What is another $566,200 in the name of sustainability?

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of solar panels by flickr user Photo Mojo Mike, used via a Creative Commons license.

Another stimulus mandate: Federal rail money comes with no-liability strings attached
Tuesday, Aug 07, 2012, 09:37AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
amtrak

The stimulus might have been a horrible job creator and an utter failure at actual economic stimulation, but the program was unparallelled at generating additional federal mandates.

If only the people at Trinity Railway Express in Irving would show a little appreciation.

Amtrak has $7.2 million just waiting for the joint office of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. All it has to do is accept liability for Amtrak’s famed rail service on its tracks, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says today.

Amtrak, whose sole success in the past 40 years is losing less money than its own budget specialists expect, is nothing if not a stickler for the rules. At the time of its creation, when Amtrak needed rail to run on, it agreed to assume liability for anything involving their engines and cars, the story says. Once up and running all bets on liability were off.

Trinity Railway applied for and in 2010 received a $7.2 million stimulus grant to double-track some of its line between Dallas and Fort Worth, a benefit to both transit services and Amtrak.

Allowing Amtrak trains to run on better transit tracks would help clear the way for TEX Rail, a commuter line from Fort Worth to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport engineers were hoping to complete in 2016.

Nothing doing, Trinity says, unless Amtrak assumes liability for its own derailments and crashes. Amtrak isn’t budging, and U.S. Department of Transportation officials say that unless Trinity accepts the deal as-is before the end of August the money will return to the federal government.

Where it will stimulate a very minor spasm of spending on something else.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitterand Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of Amtrak train by flickr user Jack_Snell, used via a Creative Commons license.

Defendant in stimulus fraud case pleads guilty to weapons charges
Tuesday, Jul 03, 2012, 09:35AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
moneyandguns

As if defrauding the federal stimulus program of $2 million wasn’t enough trouble, Charles Malouff earned 30 months in prison pleading guilty to federal weapons charges.

Malouff, of Jonestown, made a plea agreement in exchange for the sentence, which now awaits approval by a federal district judge, the Austin American-Statesman says today. Malouff had been sentenced to three years probation in 2007 for the unlawful transfer of a firearm.

Malouff isn’t quite done yet with court. He and Mary Jo Woodall, of Cedar Park, are awaiting trial dates on a bit of stimulus fraud Texas Watchdog told you about in October.

Woodall is charged with using her position as the grant administrator for the Energy Conservation Office of the state Comptroller to approve a largely phony wind power proposal made by her conspirator, Malouff.

Malouff had secured agreements with the city of Jonestown to manufacture and install wind turbines based on technology that didn’t exist. At the time of their arrests almost $1 million had been deposited in accounts of companies set up by Malouff.

During the fraud investigation authorities with search warrants found three dozen guns in Malouff’s home and in two of his gun safes in Woodall’s garage.

They also found 10 “destructive devices,” eight of them grenades, registered to the city of Bertram Police and the Bosque County Sheriff’s departments. Malouff had worked for both departments before his 2007 weapons conviction.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of money and guns via Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

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Rick Perry vs The World
Andrea Parquet-Taylor named KTVT CBS 11 news director Former KHOU 11 assistant news director Andrea Parquet-Taylor named Vice President, News Director for KTVT CBS 11 Andrea...
Update:2 years 9 months
Mike McGuff
VIDEO: KPRC 2 10pm newscast (1-24-99) ...
Update:2 years 9 months
Mike McGuff
Democrats actually thought Wendy Davis was a serious candidate? Hat tip to Willisms: VIDEO- Wendy Davis being Wendy Davis: https://t.co/SHq3ACGVDJ #txlege— Will Franklin (@WILLisms) January 24,...
Update:2 years 9 months
Rick Perry vs The World
Luke Bryan to sing National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI on FOX ​ Country music superstar LUKE BRYAN will sing the National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI pregame festivities at NRG Stadium in Houston...
Update:2 years 9 months
Mike McGuff
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 7 years 5 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 7 years 5 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 7 years 5 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 7 years 5 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 7 years 5 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 7 years 5 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 7 years 5 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 7 years 5 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 7 years 5 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 7 years 5 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 7 years 5 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
Dallas Morning News | 7 years 5 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 7 years 5 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
Karen Townsend | 7 years 5 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 7 years 5 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 7 years 5 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: http://t.co/uMqbMXQv OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 7 years 5 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 7 years 5 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 7 years 5 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 7 years 5 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
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