PROVIDENCE — A Rhode Island legislator wants to use a type of cryptocurrency as part of plans for a “green housing” fund aimed at addressing the state’s housing crisis and the climate crisis.
Environmental advocates have warned that Bitcoin is harming the planet, requiring massive amounts of electricity and producing tons of carbon dioxide. But Representative Carlos E. Tobon, a Pawtucket Democrat, is proposing a bill that would provide property owners with “green coin,” a more environmentally-friendly form of cryptocurrency.
Under his plan, government entities or the United Nations would issue credits for building homes that rely on renewable energy sources such as solar or geothermal power. Those credits would be transformed into “green coin” that could be used, for example, for environmentally-friendly purchases such as charging an electric vehicle, or they could be pooled to finance other “green housing” projects, he said.
“I’m talking about an opportunity that could put Rhode Island at the forefront,” Tobon said Thursday. “This is exciting, intriguing, maybe a little scary. Everyone is always afraid of new, innovative ideas. But if we’re going to wait to start talking about crypto in five years, we will miss the boat.”
He drew comparisons to inventors such as Thomas Edison, saying at one point no one could imagine a day when we wouldn’t put oil in lamps. “Now, no one can imagine using crypto,” he said, “but it’s not going away.”
Tobon, who works in the insurance industry and is a reserve petty officer in the US Coast Guard, said he does not know of cryptocurrency being used in this way elsewhere. “This is my idea, based on my research,” he said.
Tobon’s bill, title “The Green Housing Public-Private Partnership Act,” would create a “green housing fund” within the state Department of Business Regulation, using up to $500 million in private funding and $125 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
He said the fund would be used to build housing that is sorely lacking in Rhode Island, which needs an estimated 25,000 additional housing units.
And Tobon said that building homes that use renewable energy is crucial now that Rhode Island has enacted the Act on Climate, which makes the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable: 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below those levels by 2040, and “net-zero emissions” by 2050.
“This law is necessary to efficiently utilize public and private funds in construction projects and would provide a method to incentivize homeowners and investors who build or purchase properties built in compliance with the provisions of this chapter with cryptocurrency payments as a credit for reducing utility expenses,” the legislation states.
But why use “green coin” instead of greenbacks?
“Because cash is becoming like eight-track tapes,” Tobon said. “It’s going to be a thing of the past. How much cash do you carry in your wallet today? We are just using an instrument that is going to be much more fluid in the future than cash.”
In exchange for putting public money in the “green housing” fund, the state would be be entitled to a 25 percent ownership interest in any housing projects resulting from the program and 25 percent of any revenue generated.
The Public Utilities Commission would issue an annual report on reductions in utility costs that result from following “green housing” standards. Those cost reductions would be assigned “a credit amount” that is “eligible for redemption in byway of cryptocurrency in the form of a green coin to be issued by the department to the property owner,” the legislation states.
The bill, which was introduced on April 14, has been referred to the House Finance Committee. No hearing has taken place yet, and there is no companion bill in the Senate.
But Senator Louis P. DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat, said he applauds what Tobon is trying to do.
“We need to look at more things we can do as cryptocurrency and Bitcoin continue to mature and potentially become ubiquitous,” DiPalma said. “This is clearly one of those things that legislation will never get ahead of because it will always be ahead of us, like cybersecurity.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.