Here’s an idea to help those most hurt on a day-to-day basis by the economic downturn.
President Obama professes to want a few major changes around here. Green jobs and alternative sources of electrical energy are high on his list. One also notes that putting folks back to work, particularly in construction, would be a VERY GOOD THING, both economically and politically.
And of course there’s the idea still running around that the $787B stimulus bill, well, it didn’t really stimulate anything… how do we fix that? Do we re-stimulate the economy? If so – how?
Since it’s past obvious that NOT stimulating the taxpayers and job creators WON’T stimulate recovery, perhaps any new stimulus that adds nothing to the economy, ought to be spent on, well, those that:
- Need help
- Can revive major parts of our economy
- Will put dollars back in the hands of those who will spend them.
And… if that can be done while supporting new green jobs and green power, and in a way that will push down the cost of green energy infrastructure, and ensure America’s technological leadership, what’s not to like?
So – here’s an idea: Let’s put construction workers back to work installing photovoltaic (PV) cells on the roofs of houses* in the proper geographies (sun-drenched), driving up green jobs and alternative energy, and driving down costs of PV technology through much higher production and installation.
Well, if the Feds want to keep giving away billions of dollars, let’s look at what, say $10B would do in this instance. Just for grins, let’s say that the installation of a useful amount of PV on a roof costs about $20K/house. Ten billion dollars = 500,000 houses converted. If the cost of PV were driven down by the scale of this implementation, to say $10K per home, then $10B – 1M new homes….
… and all those sales and workers and spending generates – taxes! to help repay the stimulus, somthing TOTALLY lacking now.
We just allocated $787B – and have basically zip to show for it. No increase in employment – actually a decrease. No alternative power projects up-and-running. No cost reduction in alternative energy. No drop in load at the utility plants. Basically, from the standpoint of employment, home prices, tax revenues and any sea-change to alternative energy, this stimulus has been a total bust.
Have you run the math in your head yet about how many homes could have been converted for $787,000,000,000? That’d be 39,350,000 houses. Now, according to the Census, in mid-year 2009, there were 131.8M American homes.
So that stimulus, had it been spent on, you know, actually STIMULATING the economy and putting working men and women back to work, and actually putting spendable money in their pockets so they could buy groceries and gas and pay their mortgages, actually would have added solar power to 30% of American’s homes – probably about the number located in states where the sun actually shines.
And lessened our reliance on foreign oil. And lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and lessened the need for new power plant construction – fossil fuel or nuclear.
And wound up pushing forward PV research and development and the entire solar marketplace, thereby lowering the cost of PV technology, putting it even more in-reach of everyone here and abroad, lowering global CO2 emissions and helping to pull people from poverty globally by providing local, inexpensive electricity, the primary difference between advanced and less-advanced societies.
So spending $787B on homes would
- Put $787B in the hands of homeowners, contractors, construction employees and their families, grocery stores and gas stations
- Put a large portion of that money into the hands of those doing Research and Development and implementation of new solar power cells
- Stimulate the economy
- Stabilize housing by making homes on which PV is installed worth more in the market
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Reduce the price of solar technology and, probably, inverter and battery technology, as well
- Generate tax revenues now lacking nationally.
So – how would this be done? How would it be implemented?
Work with the major utilities – those who know where the load is and will have to develop systems to adapt their grids to this new home-generated source of power anyway – to identify how much each utility wants of that money. Give the utility 10% of the overall grant for maintenance and adaptation.
Then have the utilities put in place a program in which homeowners sign-up for their grant. Not a loan. A grant. The money will be paid directly to the PV contractor with whom the homeowner signs an installation contract. (Some will argue for a credit. Really? And exactly how many homeowners have $20K to put into a PV system, and await the tax credit next year – if the government doesn’t issue IOUs rather than tax refunds? Nope – got to be a grant.)
Will there be some level of fraud? This is a government program – of COURSE there will be fraud. Does that make it not worth doing? No.
The homeowner will have three months to install a PV system and hook it up to the grid. The homeowner will be paid for electricity fed back into the grid at the then-standard power rates.
But what about those who put it in and then let it deteriorate?
Simple – those receiving the grant also sign a contract with the utility – a contract that goes with the house as a covenant to assure that future owners pay attention. That contract commits the grant recipient – and any future owners of that property to pay for any electricity they take OFF the grid at some inflated amount, say 125% or 150%.
So they put electricity back into the grid all day, take it off the grid at night – but if they take more than they put in (and there could be seasonal adjustments), they pay extra for that electricity. Incenting them to ensure the system is maintained.
Not only that, but as the technology improves over time, some homeowners will put in better systems – on their own dime – to reduce the amount of power they take off the grid and increase the amount they put on, maybe even making a profit – and generating more tax revenue.
What a concept. A government program that actually helps people, chief among them working people. Raises the value of homes. Reduces reliance on fossil fuels. Reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Increases tax revenues by putting people back to work. Increases America’s technological leadership.
And – simple. In fact, if the government really wants another stimulus program, why not spend $100B on this now and re-fit 5,000,000 homes, putting back-to-work thousands of construction workers, and seeding a significant level of R&D to PV suppliers? Give $10B to SoCal Edison – the Inland Empire is among the areas most hard-hit by the housing disaster, and it’s drenched in sunlight. Be a perfect place to start.
How much could greenhouse gas emissions be reduced? Well, utility-generated electricity (the most efficient kind) generates about 1.25 tons of CO2 per average American home. Annually. So – let’s see…. 5,000,000 homes x 1.25 tons of CO2 = 6,250,000 tons of CO2 removed. For $100B.
Would we really rather squander another several hundreds of billions the old-fashioned way, giving it to the SEIU and the UAW? Why?
Or is this administration and this Congress really serious about the economy, about jobs, about alternative energy, and about ensuring America’s technological leadership?
Because that’s what’s really at stake here.
* I have no financial stake in the referenced PV company. I am aware of them and their website can give the reader an idea of how it works.