Bill Clinton: Cash for Clunkers Worked So Well, Let's Do It for Electric Vehicles

billclintonLasVegasWhile many of the speakers at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Monday advocated regulation that already has some sort of legs in Congress, like putting a price on carbon and a national renewable portfolio standard, former President Bill Clinton suggested several alternative ideas that he said could help push clean power and energy efficiency in the U.S. One of his ideas is to simply to take a cue from cash for clunkers to help boost sales of electric vehicles.

Cash for clunkers has worked so well at getting Americans to trade in their old cars for a significant rebate and a more fuel efficient car, why don’t we copy the idea for selling electric vehicles, said Clinton. He didn’t offer any specifics for what such a program would look like, but said the cash for clunkers program “proves that Americans will bite if you make it economical enough.” (At the same time he also acknowledged that the program’s miles per gallon limit for efficient cars might have been set too low.)

Clinton’s idea for an EV-focused cash for clunkers program was just one of several proposals, that, similar to his list from last year of the top 10 things governments can do for clean power, demonstrates some out-of-the-box thinking. Of course now that he doesn’t have re-election to worry about he can be a tad more controversial than politicians focused on clean energy that need to get elected.

Clinton also suggested national legislation for utility decoupling — disconnecting utility profits from the sale of electricity — which could help utilities finance weatherization and energy retrofits of residential buildings (most summit-goers failed to address this important issue). Clinton called decoupling and utility financing of energy retrofits, clearly “the best solution” for getting funding for energy efficiency. He made a similar statement last year when he said that the federal government should copy California, which has pushed state-wide utility decoupling.

In addition to presenting these two ideas, Clinton pushed hard on Monday for, what he called the “boring” side of energy: efficiency improvements for existing buildings. While it’s not that uncommon for this former President to undertake high-profile missions, like his latest North Korea rescue event (which he quipped today was he and Gore’s “last excellent adventure”), when it comes to implementing clean and renewable energy, he said “The least sexy topic is where the jobs are,” referring to energy retrofits for buildings. If we don’t do energy retrofits on a national scale, we’re still just “piddling around,” with this. Well, one thing is sure: Clinton himself is rarely boring.

(I took this photo of Clinton last year — it was better than my shots this year!)

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