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Putnam energy audit finds millions in taxpayer waste

Florida misspent millions of federal and state dollars intended to grow the energy sector, according to an audit by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The audit is among the first steps by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to bring stricter measurement and oversight to the Office of Energy, which, he said, has been plagued for decades by bad leadership.

The Governor's Office handed Putnam a mess when the Legislature shifted the Office of Energy to the Department of Agriculture in July of 2011, Putnam said at a Tuesday press conference.

An inspector general investigation immediately identified $2.5 million in fraud by two companies. And thousands of people were still waiting on their solar rebates.

"We inherited a pile of clothes hangers," he said. "It was a disaster."

The state manages five grant programs and four rebate programs that fund $219.7 million in projects--from university research to rebates for homeowners who upgrade their air conditioning systems and buy energy-efficient appliances.

Since the Office of Energy's creation in 1975, it bounced from agency to agency, and suffered a "complete absence of leadership," Putnam said.

The Governor's Office, which managed the program most recently, failed to monitor projects, document return on investment or properly train staff, Putnam said.

"If you're administering 200 million in grant money, you should have adequate training," he added. Of the 176 grants disbursed by the state, Putnam's office is terminating, or is in the process of terminating 32 that defrauded the state or did not produce results.

Grant holders are now expected to thoroughly document their work and submit to regular on-site visits, he said.

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