These pictures reminded me of the Energy Efficiency Act that died in the last session of the Washington State Legislature.
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The pictures are from a great website called “There, I Fixed It,” which highlights all manner of expedient fixes to seemingly intractable mechanical problems.
We weighed in on the Energy Efficiency Act, a bill in the Washington State Legislature that would have allowed local governments to loan money to homeowners and businesses to make deep retrofits to their homes. We talked about the green jobs this could create by increasing the demand for workers to make retrofits. The bill started out as a pretty straightforward fix, but halfway through the session got weighed down by amendments that made the bill less workable.
The bill failed, in no small part, because some interest groups suggested that the bill was treading on thin constitutional ice. Other groups like community banks, confused legislators about the importance of local governments having a superior lien position on loans. Currently the Washington State constitution prohibits local governments from using its credit to make loans for energy efficiency. The Energy Efficiency Act was intended to fix this problem without amending the state’s constitution.
But early on I suggested that amending the constitution might make the most sense. After all Oregon amended their constitution (30 years ago) to allow public credit to be used for energy efficiency loans and just last year they passed legislation to allow for Property Assessed Conservation Efficiency (PACE) loans. Why shouldn’t Washington do the same thing?
So I decided I would take a crack at making a change. I am not a lawyer and I don’t suggest you try this at home. Here’s what I did to Article VIII, Section 10 of Washington State’s founding document.
Notwithstanding the provisions of section 7 of this Article, aAny county, city, town, quasi municipal corporation, municipal corporation, or political subdivision of the state which is engaged in the sale or distribution of water, energy, or stormwater or sewer services may, as authorized by the legislature,may use public moneys or credit derived from operating revenues from the sale of water, energy, or stormwater or sewer servicesto assist the owners of structures, orequipment, residences and commercial properties, in financing the acquisition and installation of materials and equipment for the conservation or more efficient use of water, energy, or stormwater or sewer services in such structures or equipment. Except as provided in section 7 of this Article, aAn appropriate charge back shall be made for such extension of public moneys or credit and the same shall be a lien against the structure benefited or a security interest in the equipment benefited. Any financing for energy conservation authorized by this article shall only be used for conservation purposes in existing structures and shall not be used for any purpose which results in a conversion from one energy source to another.
There, I fixed it.
Well, it’s more complicated than that. A constitutional amendment would require a two thirds vote of each house in the legislature and then a statewide vote of the people. Making a big change like this would be a lot of work, and my simple fix might not withstand legal challenge. But it was also a lot of work to get the legislature to understand the importance of financing for stoking demand for deep energy retrofits that would create lots of green collar jobs, which are what Washington State needs right now. A constitutional amendment, while challenging, is the kind of systemic, comprehensive, and clear change that could unleash a torrent of energy efficiency upgrades that would put a lot of people to work, save families lots of money, and reduce CO2 emissions. It’s worth considering for next years legislative session.