Bill Clinton: Save Americas economy with clean energy (and save the planet)

Wonk Room is covering the Clinton Global Initiative.  This is a cross-post by Brad Johnson.

Bill ClintonPresident Bill Clinton believes the “number one thing” to restore the American economy is clean, efficient energy. In a blogger roundtable at the beginning of his Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, Clinton told us his “favorite ideas” for making the green economy a political and economic reality:

One: Federal loan guarantees for building energy efficiency retrofits

Two: Renewable energy initiatives in economically depressed cities

Three: Green jobs programs for poor Americans

Clinton, relaxed and slim, held court with a dazzling mastery of policy details, wit, and storytelling.

Citing a Center for American Progress report on the promise of energy efficiency, Clinton described his desire for the federal government to kickstart private financing of energy retrofits, much as the Clinton Foundation had done for the Empire State Building:

The Center for American Progress says we can get half the way home to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2010 by efficiency alone. Unemployment in construction is 25 percent. We can’t go out and build new houses. And there are very few office buildings that need to be built. So what I think we should do is to have a lot more Empire State Buildings. We should retrofit every public school, every college and university building every hospital, every auditorium in this country, and every office building unencumbered by debt.

Clinton believes the reason that this investment hasn’t already happened is that “spooked” banks don’t want to make loans that could collapse. His solution is to establish a federal loan guarantee program, which he believes could create one million jobs with only $15 billion in federal investment:

Give them a federal guarantee like the SBA guarantee, and you only have to set aside $1 for every $10 you loan. Still very conservative, because we know the historic failure rate is one percent, not ten percent. It might not cost the taxpayers anything.

Here’s the multiple: every billion-dollar investment in retrofits gives you 7000 jobs. Homes 8000. Wind energy 3300 if you build and assemble the windmills where you put them up. Solar 1900, coal 870, nuclear a little over 900. This is not close. If you want to put America back to work, give a loan guarantee, get banks start making loans.

Set aside $15 billion for guarantees, you get $150 billion in bank lending, you get a million jobs.

His other policy ideas are about making the clean energy economy real for the American people, rich and poor:

My second candidate: pick places that are both distressed and full of potential for energy independence. My number one candidate is Nevada, where the sun shine and the wind blows. And you’ve got all those real expensive hotels there with roofs that could be filled with solar panels. And you have all the hills around that could be filled with windmills.

I would say take a few places like that and go straight out and make them energy independent and document how many jobs have been created, and then everybody will want to do that.

My third candidate is prove it works for poor people. One of our best commitments is designed to provide after school jobs and summer jobs for poor kids in Harlem, upper Manhattan Washington heights by paying them to go in and retrofit a lot of these old buildings, whitewashing the black roofs.

If you did those three things so that every day you were proving over and over again to all the naysayers that it was good economics to build a clean energy future, you can build a consensus necessary to do what has to be done. You could beat the special interest groups.

He admitted that the key problem with this vision is that it requires a change from how the energy sector traditionally makes money:

If you make a deal for a nuclear power plant or a coal-fired power plant and you knowingly deprive all these jobs increase greenhouse gas emissions or you increase other risk or you increase huge costs “” with nuclear, it’s always more expensive “” the only real reason they do it is because they’ve always done it that way, and it is so much simpler. If you’re running the utility, there’s one contractor that’s going to build that plant, there’s one supplier of the fuel, and then you go to one PUC and they give you permission to make the ratepayers pay for it at a profit. It’s simple because it’s centralized.

The new energy economy is more decentralized, but it’s less expensive, more job intensive, and parenthetically will save the planet.

“That’s what I think we have to do,” Clinton concluded. “You’ve got to prove this is good economics. And it is! The number one thing we could do for America is change the way we produce and consume energy.”

Read other reports from Bill Clinton’s blogger roundtable at Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, WorldChanging, Credit Writedowns, ONE, and several posts from PoliticalWire.

15 Responses to Bill Clinton: Save Americas economy with clean energy (and save the planet)

  1. catman306 says:

    We probably wouldn’t be having this website if (IF!) Gore wouldn’t have had the election stolen from him in 2000. I don’t remember what Clinton was saying that November. Not enough, no doubt.

    These programs are needed now. Let’s get them in place.

    In the meantime, Joni Mitchell at the BBC, singing about putting the trees in a tree museum.. How absurd that sounded in 1970. Today, not so much.

  2. pete best says:

    The USA does have tremendous energy resources in both on and off shore wind and solar capability especially solar base load and PV. Efficiency is key to so its all doable as Bill Gates would say only its not what republicans and lobbyists wish to hear. Beating special interests is not easy.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    The Aug 25th story on the Empire State building . I think 60 Min. did a story on this as well ?

    How to Get Prompt Payback From an Aging Icon That Guzzles Energy

  4. Raul M. says:

    Bill Clinton spoke at the O’Connell center in Gvl.Fl.
    And the people wanted to hear him speak. Lots of

  5. Colorado Bob says:

    By combining an analysis of the emissions reduction and a very detailed financial analysis, we zeroed in on the eight improvement measures that, when implemented in the right order and the right way, would result in 38 percent energy savings over the course of the project, as well as have an incremental payback of three years for the building owners.

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Testifying in front of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee last month to discuss the so-called clean energy economy, Malkin said the Empire State Building consumed as much energy as 40,000 single-family homes each day. The building’s peak electricity use tops out at about 9.5 megawatts.

  7. Leif says:

    Gosh, the reason the Nation cannot embrace green energy and thus save the planet from uncontrolled climatic disruption is because energy companies make more money when the public wastes energy. Duh…

    It is good to see Bill in the game.

    I noticed yesterday that Larry Summers will be leaving the Obama administration. Perhaps President Obama will be getting in the game as well.

    Tick-tock, Tick-tock,,,

  8. mike roddy says:

    Thanks for the Joni tape, Catman. I’ve still got a crush on her!

    Obama should listen to recent tapes of Bill Clinton and imitate him- not just for the common touch, but for the common sense.

    Here’s an inexpensive microprocessor energy technology saving 35% that is routine in hotels the world over, except here the US. I’ve seen it in hotels in Europe, Asia, and South America. Most hotel owners here are provincial, and have a herd instinct. The US version is made in America, and employs lots of people for installation. Payback time is about 18 months, usually less:

    If you’re on the West Coast, you can contact me at

    Clinton travels, he probably knows about it, and should promote it himself. Hotels won’t even need bank financing, since they get cash up front from utility and IRS rebates and then positive cash flow.

  9. Michael Renner says:

    This is great stuff, and I hope Obama won’t wait to speak out (and act!) like Clinton until he’s an ex-Prez.

    Regarding the Empire State Building project, I checked the Clinton Foundation site and was puzzled why there is no mention of Skanska, which relocated its NY headquarters to the 32nd floor and designed and retrofitted to LEED Platinum for Commercial Interiors standards (status awarded in July 2009). See,%20US.pdf. I have visited that office and was impressed by how thoughtful Skanska went about the retrofit.

    Shouldn’t Clinton et al work with Skanska, learn from each other, challenge each other? That’s the kind of (friendly) competition I’d like to see more of. Perhaps there are contacts, but if so, they don’t seem very visible.

  10. Dan B says:

    Saw Clinton on David Letterman. As a student of messaging I was dazzled. It’s some of the top messaging on clean energy / 21st Century economy / saving the planet I’ve heard.

    Clinton was clear. “Clarity” in messaging is using small words that are easy to understand. At the same time he didn’t use small words when a “big” word was more precise or useful.

    Clinton was concrete. “Concreteness” is, according to Luntz (bad, I know, but a genius at communication) something that creates a visual image in the receiver. Clinton’s mention of the glass cutting / window manufacturing floor at the Empire State Building and his “vision” of Nevada Casinos covered with solar panels are two examples.

    Then he branded his Nevada vision with a simple phrase, “I’d like to see Nevada as the first state to produce all its energy with no imported energy.” (quote approximated)

    Clean cutting edge energy linked to no imported energy – brilliant branding! (pray that includes zero tar sands)

    Clinton’s communication should be example #1. of climate communication.

  11. DRT says:

    So here’s an idea: The govt. can create long term contracts to pay the energy bills for govt. buildings. The govt. agrees to pay the contractor X dollars/yr. for 10/15/20 years, where X is based on the current/average energy cost for the building. The contract holder then retrofits the building implementing energy efficiencies and pockets the savings. The sooner and more effective the efficiencies are the more money the contractor makes. No tax payer dollars are spent excepting administrative costs.

  12. catman306 says:

    Some time just after the 2nd world war, Americans got a tremendous douse of advertising that gave people who had just weathered the Depression and the War and the scarcities that were so common during that 20 year period, the idea that ‘to be rich is to be able to waste’,( “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again”. GWTW) You’re not rich unless you can afford to waste food, energy, commodities, the land, money,.. anything. So since Elvis Americans who want to appear rich will waste at every opportunity. Advertising has created this world for us. Google image ‘vintage coal posters’ or ’50s advertising’.

    If I were King of the World, I’d ban all advertising GRAPHICS. All ads would be ‘tombstone’ print ads. It seems that it is really easy to mix emotions and rational thinking when graphics are inserted into an ad. The ‘free market’ is based on rational decisions made by rational consumers. Right? So why is it necessary to use emotions to sell in a free market society? Could the answer be GREED?

  13. Kaj Luukko says:

    Well, it was Clinton who cancelled the IFR-project in 1994, only three years before it would have been completed. It had the potential to offer clean energy to the world AND to solve the nuclear waste problem.

    IMHO, that was one of the biggest mistakes in the recent history. The technology would be commercial today…

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    Currently, the best small turbines on the market have a very small window of wind speed at which they can operate. The Shrouded Dual Turbine Generator will be able to operate up to 20 hours per day. With over triple the output of existing turbines, we will open up new markets, by making our product attractive not only to the environmentally conscious customer, but also to the fiscally minded customer.
    In CA a 2.5kW turbine would cost $10,800 with rebate and credit it would cost under $1200 with a one year payback. A 10 kW system would provide 3000 to 6000 kWh of power, providing power for six to eight homes. This system, with a cost of $42,800 ($27,840 after credits and rebates) would provide a monthly income of $240-$480 after a five year payback.
    Our turbine can be placed on any building or on a pole, above 40 feet most locations will be out of danger zone of flying debris.
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  15. GPF says:

    It makes me happy to see Pres. Clinton endorse the business case for green building retrofits. My firm, GPF, is working to mobilize private capital to invest in acquiring and retrofitting private commercial properties, optimizing their financial and environmental performance. Federal loan guarantees could provide a tremendous boost that could allow GPF to hire more workers and cut more GHG emissions.