Those clowns in Congress were at it again last week. What a bunch of clowns! (How does the DJ 3000 keep up with the news like that?)

Anyway, yes, it’s been a heckuva silly season for American guv’mint, and it strikes me they could use some unsolicited advice from a Canadian cleantech blogger. Here it is: return to D.C. ASAP. Blow the dust off HR 2599, enhance and expand it as recommended below, pass it unanimously, and seize the post-recession future! Simple. Think I’ll head out to the porch with a mojito and a good book and await my fat lobbyist kickbacks.

Oh, haven’t heard of HR 2599? Wondering what mystic powers it must possess? Is it some magical debt-ceiling levitation device? A spell of +3 bipartisan cooperation? Nope, but that last one is pretty close. HR 2599 is the PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011, a House bill co-sponsored by 14 Republicans and 11 Democrats that would restore Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding programs, which were kiboshed last year by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae

Still not clear? Okay. So PACE was a brilliant bit of funding wizardry pioneered out in sunny California. The ever-informative Todd Woody of Forbes has a tidy little summary for you:  

[T]he program, pioneered by the city of Berkeley, Calif., allows municipalities to float bonds to finance the installation of home solar arrays and other energy efficiency projects. Homeowners avoid the five-figure upfront cost of going solar and pay back the money through an annual surcharge on their property tax bill, typically over 20 years. If an owner sells the home, the surcharge rolls over to the buyer.
Folks were wild about PACE, and no wonder. If I’m Joe or Jane Homeowner, here's my value proposition: I get solar panels, maybe a solar hot water heater or heat exchanger or high-efficiency furnace or, why not, maybe even a geothermal heat pump – there are limitless possibilities – and instead of having to take out a bank loan or second mortgage or come up with twenty grand in capital in the worst economy since the Dust Bowl, I simply pay a bit extra on my property bill. It's like rent-to-own without the usury. Simple. Effective. Sign me up, right?  

Well, many tried. PACE financing spread from Berkeley to 24 more states within months, and solar panel makers and installers were salivating at the promise of solar-roofed homes across America. Thing was, the PACE bond was a sort of lein against the house, and Freddie and Fannie had become pathologically terrified of leins, even ones backed by other arms of various governments. They said nay, California’s PACE program and all the rest withered on the vine, and the whole new-economy notion vanished into the churn of recrimination and half-truth about whose fault it was that the old economy was flatlining.

The idea remains as viable and likeable as ever, and HR 2599 could rev it back up in weeks. And as Todd Woody further reports, the economics of it are the sort of numbers that should have approval-rating-challenged Congresspeople clawing over each other to take credit for championing it: if just one in 100 American households signed up, you’d have almost a quarter of a million jobs, $40 billion in economic activity, $4 billion in new tax revenue, all in an industrial sector that’s in the fat juicy part of its growth curve and the giddy freefall section of its cost curve.  

And if the carnival that is the 112th Congress wanted to be truly nutty about it, they could go even further. Imagine reduced-rate student loans or tuition grants for unemployed people who wanted to retrain as solar panel installers or energy efficiency consultants. Imagine a new stimulus package geared at making American homes the most efficient on the planet. Imagine actually making the transition to the new economy that President Obama described so eloquently in front of a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Iowa – Iowa! The primary state! – back on Earth Day 2009.  

This is nuts-and-bolts, bread-and-butter economic stuff – manufacture and assembly, installation and home renovation. It can’t be offshored, and it doesn’t care a whit about the mood down at Standard & Poor’s. Why, just this week, the internets were all atwitter with talk of Ford Motor Co.’s ambitious new partnership with SunPower to bundle its electric vehicles with SunPower’s solar panels, bringing the promise of a solar-powered car in every smart-gridded garage one step closer to rubber-meets-road reality.

It’s hard to see how any sane political system could be against HR 2599. I mean, it’s already got actual! bipartisan! support! in maybe the most rancorous Congress ever.  

Of course, I went and dropped an ugly word in there – sane – and plum forgot who I was talking about. Those clowns in Congress. On the eve of an election year. Think they’ll see the light of the energy-giving sun on this one?

To trade clown stories 140 characters at a time, follow me on Twitter: @theturner.

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