Look, this segment of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver is a dry one. Oliver says up front that “if you’re under 35, you can actually skip this story.” That’s because it’s about PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, a program first endorsed by Obama, and then Biden, which was “originally designed to provide low-income homeowners a way to make their homes more environmentally friendly” by installing solar panels and making other home improvements. Sounds legit, but in fact, it’s a system where private home-renovation contractors hired by cities put priority property liens on the houses of people who are not qualified to pay them back. As a result, vulnerable people (seniors, the disabled, etc.) often end up losing their homes, and these massive liens on their homes leave them with even less consumer protection than with traditional loans.
The PACE program is an expansion of a program developed in Berkeley, California, by Cisco Devries, a self-described “capitalist hippie,” which is simply the reddest of flags. Oliver points out that there’s no accountability baked into the program, so the private companies that work with contractors to sell homeowners on PACE end up passing the buck. “If your seafood restaurant sells tainted lobsters, they shouldn’t get to shrug it off by saying, ‘Well, you picked the one you wanted out of the tank’ when they put those lobsters in there in the first place,” he says, in Oliverian fashion. There’s a brief reprieve when Oliver summons George Clooney with the snap of his fingers, but mostly, this segment plays like The Big Short 2: Even Bigger Shorts.