AUSTIN – Stimulus money added on top of federal funding already received by the State Energy Conservation Office means about $233 million in all will be available for energy-related projects.

Comptroller and SECO officials updated lawmakers during a meeting Thursday of the House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding.

Texas typically receives about $211 million in federal money toward its energy plan, with the stimulus providing an additional $22.8 million, they said.

The monies will flow straight from Washington to SECO, which annually receives about $2 million from the state as its match to the federal dollars received.

The $2 million is included in the state’s appropriations process.

SECO is a program administered by the state Comptroller’s Office and focuses on partnerships with consumers, businesses, educators and local governments to reduce energy costs and maximize efficiency.

Among its services, the agency offers low-interest loans and grants for projects through a competitive application process.

The money will be well-spent and accounted for, the officials said, noting the funding would help address a backlog of projects for which public entities are seeking assistance – and most applications could be processed within six months.

The comptroller’s office is confident it can administer and account for the stimulus monies coming into the state, the officials said.

Testifying before the committee were Robert Wood, director of local government assistance with the comptroller, and Dub Taylor, SECO manager. The committee is chaired by Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, with Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, serving as vice chairman.

The nine-member also includes House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Speaker Pro Tempore Craig Eiland, D-Galveston.

The committee also received testimony from additional members of the Comptroller’s Office, the Public Utility Commission, the Office of Rural and Community Affairs, the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Lisa Minton, a research/analyst for the comptroller, said the numbers were still being finalized as to what the stimulus means to the state and its different agencies.

“This is constantly changing. We were updating it five minutes before we got here,” she said. “We update it several times a day (and) these numbers are going to keep changing.”

Minton was joined by fellow research/analyst Tom Currah as they provided committee members with the most recent breakdown of the money by state agency, noting, as an example, about $140 million that would likely flow through one of the stimulus’ provisions to the Governor’s Office and Department of Public Safety.

Most of the money is intended to supplement existing money, not supplant it, Currah said.

Queried about accountability, Currah said, “We are planning for that. We are operating under the assumption we will have to track this money.”

The timing “couldn’t be better” for Texas to receive its share of stimulus money, the ORCA representative said, noting the agency expects to receive an additional $20 million.

“This is a welcome amount of money. We wish there was a lot more available to us,” he said, noting almost $140 million of “shovel-ready” projects – of which only about $68 million will be able to be funded, even with the stimulus added in. “We could use another $80 million to fill all applications,” he said.

He also assured committee members the agency is prepared to account for the money and how it is spent.

“Our accounting is in place, we have programs in place, we have auditors in place. We will be able to handle this money,” he said.

The committee’s meetings will be ongoing as lawmakers discuss the stimulus package and how it can best benefit the state. Various state agencies are being scheduled to testify before the committee, which Dunnam indicated also may hold several meetings at other locations in the state so as to allow for public input as well.

On the Internet:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

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