‘Rapid’ probe ordered for green energy group

AUGUSTA — The head of the state’s accountability agency promised a legislative committee on Friday to “follow the money” as she investigates the $1.1 million grant that went to a now defunct energy group.

The bipartisan Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to not only order the probe by the Office of Program and Government Accountability (OPEGA), but to subject it to the “rapid response process.”

OPEGA director Beth Ashcroft explained that means the audit on the Maine Green Energy Alliance will go to the head of the line and other projects will take a little longer to complete.

While she was uncertain how long the study would take, she said many of the documents had already been sent to her by another legislative committee.

She said that she would know within three weeks if she and her staff will need much longer to compete their work.

The initials questions about the grant were raised by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology following news stories by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that revealed the Alliance had not met its goals for signing up households for energy audits.

The Center also reported that the Alliance’s had been founded by attorney Tom Federle, one-time counsel to former Gov. John Baldacci, who had helped the Alliance get the federal stimulus grant. The articles also reported the unusual number of Democratic activists, candidates and lawmakers on the Alliance staff.

The Alliance agreed to return the unspent portion of the grant to the state agency that oversees energy projects, Efficiency Maine Trust.

Following legislative’s rule, the Energy Committee asked the Oversight Committee to direct OPEGA to conduct the audit of the Alliance.

Ashcroft estimated the Alliance had spent about $500,000 of the grant.

OPEGA was asked to look into three specific areas:

* How the money was spent

* Whether it was spent legally

* Were all the funds properly accounted for?

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