What if government said you could pay your taxes by making your home more energy efficient?

What if government offered to provide a van if you start a van pool?

What if these were part of a green energy program with more than twice the peak yearly budget for the Apollo project? (More)

An Apollo Project for Green Energy? (Non-Cynical Saturday)

Progressives often call for a Manhattan or Apollo project-like program to transform America’s energy policy. Yesterday I said the Apollo project was a poor metaphor, because most Americans were mere spectators to the moon mission, while changing our nation’s energy policy will require many of us to change our values and lifestyles. That rationale is valid, if we use the metaphor literally.

But what if progressives use the Apollo project metaphor symbolically, an example of government committing substantial resources toward solving a seemingly impossible problem?

In that sense the Apollo project metaphor makes sense, and progressives would be correct to complain that no such program has yet begun. Except such a program was begun … in the first month of the Obama administration.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, revisited.

The 2009 stimulus plan has drawn criticism both from Tea Party Republicans who call it a socialist failure and from progressives like Nobel laureate Paul Krugman who say it wasn’t enough to fill the “well over $2 trillion hole” in our economy. I agree with Dr. Krugman; as a job-creation program, the 2009 act wasn’t enough.

But consider the NASA budgets during the 1960s. The NASA budget peaked in 1965 at $33.5 billion (in 2007 dollars), mostly for the Apollo project. The ARRA funding for green energy was over twice that amount. That is an Apollo project for green energy, and it began quietly in the first month of President Obama’s administration.

Maybe it began too quietly. I don’t recall reading about it at the time, though a Google search brought up several contemporary news stories. At the time, I was probably more focused on stories about projected jobs impact and the political wrangling of getting the bill passed. Jobs were and still are the primary focus for many of us, and as activists many of us like to read and write about the political arguments.

So I missed the start of our new Apollo project. Maybe President Obama and leaders in Congress should have highlighted that more in speeches, or maybe I should have read more broadly. We sometimes criticize our leaders for saying too much and doing too little, but this is a case where they did more than many of us heard about. What did they do?

Conservation, research, and production.

The Apollo project for green energy funds three approaches to energy policy: conservation, research, and production.

For example, that $70 billion includes tax credits for making your home more energy efficient. Homeowners can receive 30% credits, up to $1500, for installing biomass stoves, more efficient heating and air conditioning, better insulation and roofing, more efficient water heaters, and better doors and windows. Homeowners can also receive 30% credits, with no maximum, for installing geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines, or solar energy systems. And there is a 30% credit, up to $500 per 0.5kW capacity, for installing residential fuel cells and microturbines.

That $70 billion also includes tax credits for solar, wind, and geothermal industry research and production. The bill offered companies a choice of investment or production tax credits, and monetized those credits as direct grants. And by funding the credits through 2012, the bill stabilized the previously topsy-turvy regulations for renewable energy subsidies.

That $70 billion also includes subsidies for state and local projects, including mass transit projects. Both high-speed and light rail projects here in Florida are seeking some of those subsidies, as are other mass transit projects around the country. Some of that funding already comes to my area, in part to subsidize its van pool program. The program encourages companies and other groups to organize van pools for a monthly fare, and provides the van … including insurance and maintenance, and a back-up driver if the group’s usual driver is unavailable.

If you’d like to know other ways you can participate in this new Apollo project, the Department of Energy has a website with tools that help you measure your family’s carbon footprint, and tips for how to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint at home, at work, at school, and as you commute.

Sometimes our leaders say too much and do too little, and sometimes they do more than we know about. Like a new Apollo project for green energy.

Many of us asked for it. It’s already here.

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Happy Saturday!