Retrofitting Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton got me. I’ve got to admit it. I went into his speech at Netroots Nation completely cynical–the only reason I even attended was because I was curious about his motives in being there at all. What was in my head was: “So, what do you want?”

But then he started talking about retrofitting (using words I’ve used in my own head when thinking about this issue, no less). He said we have to focus on the least sexy aspect of environmental reform: energy efficiency. He started talking about the tons of money the Clinton Global Initiative was funneling (or was going to funnel soon) toward energy efficiency retrofits in 40 cities.

He got me. For a split second, he had me wondering if I should go to work for the CGI. And while my innate distrust of a consummate politician led me to tell myself that CGI might be nothing but a lot of flashy images designed to fool me into thinking Bill Clinton was a political superhero, it’s true that Clinton has been doing this work for quite a while, including the heavy lifting of talking to the banks. According to him, he was about to get the banks to finance a *lot* of loans for green retrofitting and energy efficiency–but then the economy collapsed. That’s easy to say–Clinton is good at making excuses–but on the other hand, I’d be willing to cut even Clinton some slack on not being able to persuade the banks to make a lot of loans immediately after last year’s meltdown. The 900-billion dollar question is, can he persuade them now?

At the Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas the week before, Clinton spoke on this issue (hat tip to the Las Vegas National Review):

“Clinton suggested two solutions [for stimulating the green economy]: Decoupling utility revenues from electricity sales, so that power companies can earn profits even as they sell less electricity; and freeing $520 billion from banks, which, Clinton said, have $900 billion in cash on hand that they have not yet committed to loans.

One innovation that could help unlock those dollars would be a retrofit-loan program similar to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s business-loan guarantees, Clinton suggested. Capitalize it on a ratio of 1 to 10, then that $18 billion in retrofit funds appropriated in the federal stimulus bill becomes $180 billion with loan programs.

`You’ve got to get the banks involved in this if you want to quit piddling around,’ he said. `We don’t need 625,000 jobs gradually built over 10 years. We need 3 million jobs today.'”

True dat, Mr. President. Can you use your rightly vaunted charisma effectively toward that end? Does it work as well on financiers as it does on a workaday progressive activist with an efficiency fetish?

Until further notice, I am remaining skeptically optimistic.

-Bronwyn

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4 comments so far

  1. sunshine on

    Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. Better, stronger, faster, monogamous.

    • Bronwyn on

      ROTFL!!!

  2. Chris on

    “According to him, he was about to get the banks to finance a *lot* of loans for green retrofitting and energy efficiency–but then the economy collapsed.”

    A problem in the non-profit world is that donors, even big time donors, withdraw or put on hold funding projects when stocks take a hit. They only dedicate around 5% of their resources to funding and the rest is invested in moderately risky mutual funds. The idea is that if they can make 7% return they’ll be solvent forever, but in reality it creates a lot of situations where groups spend time and resources seeking funding that never comes.

    I think Clinton is genuinely dedicated to bringing funding to his projects and he’s as savvy as they come in terms of being aware of this type of pitfall.

    • Bronwyn on

      “The idea is that if they can make 7% return they’ll be solvent forever, but in reality it creates a lot of situations where groups spend time and resources seeking funding that never comes.”

      That’s certainly true. And I’m willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt as you do. Like I said, the real question is: Can Clinton actually do it? Can he get the banks to loan money to these projects?

      Personally, I think such loans should have been the major string attached to the TARP funds–if you want a ton of taxpayer money to bail you out, you need to extend credit to the citizens and companies that are actually doing concrete work on energy efficiency–but then I think we should have a new WPA of retrofitters and energy efficiency experts (and maybe some green builders and deconstructors) descending on our cities. But who listens to me? {INSERT Miracle Max voice} “Why don’t you just give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?”


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