Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saving Nummi for a Greener Future


One idea that has not been considered regarding Nummi is to create a reverse mortgage and allow people to pre-order cars, ideally plug-ins and or hybrids built at the Fremont plant. For the last two years I’ve been pitching the idea of creating clean energy reverse mortgages (www.cleanenergyrm.org) for investment in alternative energy. Millions every day are loaned to senior citizens in conventional reverse mortgages, why not structure one to speed up clean energy investment and slow down climate change. Currently people over 62 can take out what’s called a reverse mortgage which is borrowing money off the equity in your home. The attraction of the loan is that no payments are due until the home is sold or passed on to relatives or other heirs. Congress with strong bipartisan supports ups the limit every year for the loan where now if a senior has enough equity , they can borrow over $400,000.

In December, Financial Services Chair Barney Frank told the media a reverse mortgage was probably the opposite of a sub-prime loan, a very solid loan for lenders and borrowers. While most of the current tax breaks for clean energy investments have gone to corporations and the “fortunate fifth” of the population a clean energy reverse mortgage could benefit a much larger segment of the population. Some political scientists claim that when programs benefit the most fortunate among us , its called “opportunity hoarding.” It is happening all the time. With the tax rebates available for solar investments in our state big companies especially Honeywell have gotten the lions share of the rebate money. It is likely most of the people who are putting solar panels on their homes are people with substantial means so both the “fortunate fifth” as well as wealthy corporations are getting breaks that few others can easily take advantage. Since over 60 million families have a fair amount of equity in their homes they could qualify for a modest clean energy reverse mortgage if it were available to consumers. When you own a home your equity qualifies you for borrowing money. People take out business loans based on their home equity all the time. In recent years many small businesses were started on home improvement loans before our current recession. Almost everyone realizes this apparently except our elected officials. Reps. Pete Stark, Barbara Lee and Nancy Pelosi have all been unwilling to even discuss clean energy reverse mortgages. Given the severity of climate change we need to use all the tools available in our financial tool box, said one activist in Copenhagen last month. With Nummi , a project to pre-order plugins could possibly help keep the plant open.

I sent a letter to the editor of the Daily Review and they refused to publish it claiming it was not an option. Not that there were so many options out there, anyways. According to Andy Frank, the electric car expert at UC Davis, you need to sell 100,000 cars in a year to make it into the car production mix. Why not a labor/environmentalist project to pre-order plug -ins using a reverse mortgage. Buy now, pay when you sell your home. This would certainly help the auto workers, the car manufacturers, suppliers, the local community, the environment and it would save people money at the pump. The Daily Review nor the brilliant legislators haven’t come up with something that will save the facility, why not be a little move flexible with an attitude to do whatever works? The auto industry itself has a long list of financing options, why not a green one?

Clean energy reverse mortgages are the least our financial sector could do after the bailouts and the bonuses to high-priced bank executives. The taxpayers gave $2 trillion to clean up their investment disaster. The Federal Reserve kicked in another $6-8 trillion. Since our manufacturing corporations have cast their fate overseas, we are now pretty much a finance-based economy where financial innovation is our biggest domestic product. Our biggest export are weapons. Why not a financial innovation that doesn't stick it to consumers? Why not one financial innovation that could help the economy, the employment situation and the environment? The Pharaohs of Finance, with a little prodding by our elected representatives have to for once not ask "what’s in it for me."

Craig Williams is a San Leandro resident.

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