Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is the Future?

I've learned over the last few years that government policy does matter. It began in October 2008 when I heard that the City of San Diego was going to follow Berkley's lead and adopt a mello-roos property tax district. This was an ingenious way to allow individual homeowners to opt-in to a Property Tax District that would allow them essentially to choose to create their own energy (electric, heat, efficiency) or stick with their centralized utilities.

The problem is simple really, we have to switch over from environmentally destructive carbon-fuels to Energy Efficient Renewable Energy (EE/RE) but the cost of this infrastructure is extremely expensive (about 20 years of current energy usage). If we had wisely invested 10% of our money in EE/RE each year, over the last 20 years or so, as Germany is doing, we would be free of carbon-pollution. However, the energy industry would rather that we continue to use their infrastructure, and they hire lobbyists to influence our representatives on every level.

Now we are in a recession, arguably caused by those same corporate powers, and people in houses have no money, because they lost all their equity and their savings, too. With massive credit card debt and high unemployment there is no capital to invest in EE/RE infrastructure.

The genius of Property Assessed Clean Energy programs (PACE) was that they didn't require capital, they used the value of the property and its tenants future energy needs to secure a long term loan that would increase energy efficiency and allow each property to become a net positive energy generator.

The really interesting part was that these programs were designed to get around the necessity of state and federal bureaucracy that usually stops such energy innovation in its tracks. Each municipality could decide if it wanted such a program, and each individual property owner could design their own system and financing terms. This frees up the whole energy delivery system, and creates jobs and industries out of future potential. This could have jump-started the whole economy.

Alas, it was not to happen. The corporate powers stepped in, The Federal National Mortgage Association, nicknamed Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Mortgage Corporation, nicknamed Freddie Mac, two private, for-profit, government-insured corporations (which we had just bailed out using $Trillions in Federal Reserve Emergency Loans and the TARP) went to the Federal Housing Administration and put a stop to PACE programs nationwide. They did so on the grounds that a new primary lean for EE/RE, on the very homes their mortgage loans depended upon for collateral, would put them at further risk, as more and more people default and go into foreclosure (tells you what they think of the future).

Essentially, if you live in a home with a mortgage, you really don't own that home, and your landlord, the lender, decides from whom you can, or can not, buy your energy. Also, this means that municipalities can not choose to create local tax structures to fund local infrastructure improvements. Seems unconstitutional to me, and also to 37 State Attorney Generals who are currently suing the Federal Government to overturn this ruling.

In the mean time, utilities with energy monopolies like Sempra owned SDG&E, have successfully lobbied for Public Bonds to fund their centralized energy infrastructure "improvements" like the $3-billion "Sunrise Powerlink". These bonds will be funded by private capital at interest and repaid with your tax dollars. Sound familiar? The only difference between this and PACE, is that as soon as this expensive and environmentally damaging infrastructure is created, it becomes the private property of the Investor Owned Utility (IOU), not a public asset, not owned by the property owners or the municipalities, but by the middle-men.

The tragedy is that in crushing PACE, the banks have crushed our future economy. They not only failed to see that home-owners would save money by switching from paying "public" utilities to building their own private energy generation, but those individual EE/RE projects would create jobs, industries, and the very kind of productive financing loans that banks need to become profitable again. This is terribly short-sighted.

Now, our future is bleak. As mega-energy corporations and private utilities control our centralized energy infrastructure, only wealthy home-owners have the capital necessary to invest in their own private energy generation equipment. Furthermore, the environment is under greater threat from carbon-pollution as property-owners have little or no financial incentive to be energy efficient or invest in expensive renewable energy generation, leaving them dependent upon utilities and oil companies to power their vehicles.

Germany is 11 years into a plan to free themselves from energy imports by 2050. China is converting to Renewable Energy, even while they build a new Coal Power-plant each week. California, once a new energy economy, is stagnant, while New Jersey converts to solar power.

We have chosen our future through our government policy.

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