In this economic climate, it may surprise some to hear that the State recently announced that additional monies were awarded as part of the 2011 "EmPOWER Clean Energy Communities" grant program. While previously the MEA stated that $1.4 million in EmPOWER Clean Energy Community Grant funds would be available for fiscal year 2011, Governor O'Malley announced on December 1st that a total of $2 million in grant money was awarded.

Specifically, forty-one grants were awarded to organizations that serve Maryland's low-to-moderate income households. These grants are expected to assist 1,400 Maryland residents with energy and financial savings.

Funded by the Strategic Energy Investment Fund (SEIF), the grants are being administered by the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA). The SEIF funds are available via proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's first multi-state collaborative carbon cap-and-trade program.

Each Maryland county and Baltimore City was allocated grant funds based on the number of low-to-moderate income households therein. Prince George's County received the highest allocation, followed by a three way tie between Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Montgomery County. A large amount of counties tied for the lowest allocations, including counties on the Eastern Shore and Garrett County.

As to the award recipients, the Baltimore City Department of General Services received a $100,000 grant for the installation of energy efficient furnaces in homes undergoing weatherization. In Baltimore County, Diversified Housing Development received $193,000 for the audit and weatherization of homes. Civic Works, Inc. was awarded two grants, both for energy audits and energy efficiency overhauls, the first being a $100,000 grant for homes in Baltimore County and the second being a $150,000 grant for homes in Baltimore City. The largest single grant of $216,000 went to United Communities Against Poverty for the weatherization of homes in Prince George's County. The smallest grant of $6,000 went to Prosperity Pail Ministry Works, Inc. to provide hot water tank upgrades to residents of Garrett County.

The grant funds must be used primarily for the purchase and installation of energy efficient equipment, as only a limited amount of funds can be used to pay for technical assessments, licenses, training and consumer education related to energy efficiency. Significant restrictions apply. For example, the money can only be used to fund the incremental costs of upgrading to a higher level of efficiency equipment. Additionally, spending caps apply per home energy retrofit, and elements of the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR are required. Unfortunately, the use of renewable energy technologies do not qualify for the grant funds, and all of the grant funds will be distributed through a reimbursement process.

The EmPOWER Clean Energy Communities' initiative was previously noted to include a 15% reduction in electricity usage and peak demand, on a per capita basis, by 2015. More recently, however, the goal was noted as a 15% reduction in energy consumption by 2025.