- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware’s state auditor says there’s no proof that a multimillion-dollar energy efficiency project involving legislative mall buildings will ever pay off for taxpayers.

The project is part of a $67.4 million energy savings initiative by the Sustainable Energy Utility involving a variety of state facilities. The SEU is a state-created nonprofit closely tied to Sen. Harris McDowell III, D-Wilmington, its co-founder and chairman.

The legislative mall project will cost taxpayers $8 million over 20 years but is expected to result in energy cost savings of $2.7 million. The work, done by Honeywell International, involved a variety of upgrades to Legislative Hall and several other state government buildings in Dover. The work ranged from installing new lighting and water conservation measures to retrofitting heating and cooling systems.

But auditor Tom Wagner said in a report issued Tuesday that those savings are simply estimates that come with no guarantees and are based on incomplete or missing data.

“State officials could not offer evidence of a study or thoughtful analysis that ensured the Sustainable Energy Utility program was beneficial,” the report stated. “Additional review and analysis of the contractual arrangements reflected that the state’s best interest was subordinate to the interests of the SEU and its partners.”

A spokeswoman for the state Office of Management and Budget said in an email that the agency has reviewed Wagner’s report and is “investigating the validity” of its findings.

“We would note, however, that in drafting the report, the auditor’s office did not consult with any independent energy engineering companies to analyze the very technical electrical and mechanical construction and engineering work taking place through the energy efficiency program,” OMB spokeswoman Jessica Eisenbrey. She added that OMB disagrees with Wagner’s claims that there is no protection to ensure the state will benefit from a reduction in actual energy costs.

“The energy savings are guaranteed by the contractor and there is a detailed and industry standard methodology for calculating those savings,” she wrote.

Tony DePrima, executive director of the SEU, echoed Eisenbrey’s statement, adding that the auditor’s office’s outreach to him was “minimal.”

“I think they have some fundamental misunderstanding about how the program works,” DePrima said.

DePrima also said that Wagner’s office never asked him for an annual saving statement, which was required to have been submitted in the spring of last year, to document verified savings from the projects.

“Whether they asked OMB … I don’t know,” added DePrima, acknowledging that he never got the statement himself until he called OMB on Tuesday and asked for it.

“I didn’t realize we didn’t have it … That’s not to mean it wasn’t being monitored,” he said.

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