Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has called for an incentive program in which the government pays half the cost of installing solar panels on homes (10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2008). While useful and a dramatic improvement on the status quo, the proposal still requires the homeowner to make a significant investment at a time when money is tight. An alternative proposal would be to have the government provide solar panels on houses and other structures free of charge by renting the roof space in exchange for energy savings. There is no reason the program cannot be extended to other spaces (such as parking lots) public or private.
Taxpayers would provide the funding and reap the benefits of lower energy costs as well as cleaner air. The government would assume the responsibility of maintenance and improvements as technological advances allow. With the price of oil at an all time high and showing no signs of abating, the substantial initial costs would soon be transformed into a perpetual dividend.
There is no reason such a proposal need wait for the federal government. It can readily be implemented at the state or local level funded by selling bonds with a compelling return. The social benefits and economic return on such an investment is compelling indeed. In fact it is the only kind of investment that makes sense in these trying times.