Colorado Energy Office has no idea how much its programs cost

A scathing audit of the Colorado Energy Office, a cornerstone of the state’s efforts to promote clean and renewable energy initiatives, shows that it’s been so poorly managed over the past six years that it can’t demonstrate that any of its 34 energy-related programs — which cost $252 million in state and federal funds — have been cost effective.

The Office of the State Auditor found that the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) doesn’t maintain annual budgets for any of its various programs and can’t say what they cost or what was spent on them.

In several cases, staff members don’t even know what some programs’ goals are.

The audit found that contractors aren’t properly monitored, paperwork is missing critical information and the staff has barely been trained.

It also found that the CEO’s directors and staff racked up more than $87,000 in questionable expenses, including $13,000 in travel by former directors that wasn’t properly approved, and one instance in which CEO paid $1,500 for a former employee to attend an energy-related certification training a month after he’d resigned.

“All together, the issues we identified lead us to question CEO’s ability to implement programs and projects successfully,” the audit states.

The CEO has been around since 1977, but shifted its focus to green energy initiatives, renewable energy and clean-energy jobs when Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter took office in 2007. One of Ritter’s priorities was what he called the “new energy economy,” which emphasized development of wind and solar industries.

The bulk of CEO’s revenue comes from the federal government, particularly over the past three years, when it received $144 million in Recovery Act funds from 2009-2012 to be spend on energy initiatives.

When he left office in 2011, Ritter was hired to head the privately-funded Center for the New Energy Economy — at a salary of $300,000 per year — at Colorado State University. Ritter has been widely reported as being among those considered for U.S. secretary of energy.

The audit, which was requested by state lawmakers last year after $9 million of CEO money couldn’t be accounted for, covers the period from 2007-2012. For the bulk of that time, from 2007-2010, the agency was headed by Ritter appointee Tom Plant, a former lawmaker who now runs a clean-energy consulting company.

The audit describes an agency in complete shambles that fails to adhere to even the most basic operational standards.

“We did find problems in all the areas that we looked at,” said auditor Michelle Colin.

Most glaring is that staff members didn’t know how much any of their 34 programs cost or how much had been spent on them. Many programs weren’t being properly monitored or their progress documented.