In Knoxville, a team of auditors hired by the city is spending six months peering into the grimy nooks of fire and police stations and even the convention center, where one employee referred to the downstairs boiler area as a “money-eating room.”
Knoxville — which says the stimulus money may help accelerate or expand its program — hopes to reduce the city’s energy bills as much as 25 percent, and the city is “definitely on the front end of the wave as far as efficiency and municipalities addressing efficiency,” said John Plack Jr., a director of project development for Ameresco, which is conducting the Knoxville energy audit.
In the Southeastern region of the country, where Mr. Plack works, low electricity prices have often made saving energy an afterthought, unlike in California and much of the Northeast. For example, Nashville, nearly 200 miles west of Knoxville, has not conducted an energy audit of its city buildings, though it hopes to use stimulus money to look through its own stock of fire stations and libraries.
“There’s a lot of municipalities out there who are completely unaware this is moving forward,” Mr. Kaplan said, referring especially to smaller cities. “They just don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with this.”
The Energy Department, which is doling out most of the grants, has been assailed on Capitol Hill for delays in disbursing other types of assistance for clean energy. Ms. Kielich said in an e-mail message that the department hoped efficiency grants would begin flowing to city and state energy offices within 120 days, and that it planned to begin disbursing weatherization money “expeditiously and responsibly.”
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On the receiving end, absorbing the huge increase in money for weatherization could be particularly challenging, said Ian Bowles, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts. Though he contends it can be done, “the weatherization folks are going to have to quintuple their effort in order to put that money out,” he said.
In some cases, the managers of efficiency programs may not need to look far to find ways to spend the money.
In Knoxville, the Community Action Committee, whose operations include helping poor people weatherize their homes, works from a building with a $14,000 monthly utility bill — some of it because of an enormous skylight that lets in too much blistering Tennessee sunshine in the summer.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Barbara Kelly, executive director of the committee. “We do better for our clients than we do for us.”