Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt hope to convince the federal government to triple clean tech investments.

The pair of corporate titans said Thursday they want $16 billion to go each year to research, develop and deploy technologies including wind energy, solar and nuclear fission. Their newly created American Energy Innovation Council includes fellow heavyweights John Doerr, a venture capitalist, and Bank of America Chairman Chad Holliday, among others.

On the surface, this flood of money makes obvious sense. But from another perspective, it is nothing new. Contained in proposed federal legislation that is now awaiting congressional approval is clean-tech spending that will increase to $50 billion a year by 2020, according to Mark Trexler, director of climate strategies and markets at risk management firm DNV.

About $13 billion comes from tax credits and other fiscal measures. The rest is the result of ratepayer increases for electricity and other energy.

The spending should lead to massive investments for wind, solar and carbon capture, Trexler said at the Cleantech Institute conference recently held at the University of California, Berkeley.  

The trouble is that the legislation has a slim chance of passing and the stalemate over bills, such as Waxman-Markey, could last another five to six years, according to Trexler. If Democrats lose seats this fall and again in 2012, "it doesn't make sense that the numbers look any better," he says.

According to Maximilian Auffhammer, also in attendance at the Cleantech conference, the Waxman-Markey proposal has another big benefit for clean tech that is not well known.

Among the bill's important policy mechanisms are "the most stringent building codes we have ever seen," says Auffhammer, an associate professor at UC-Berkeley.

The bill would bring into existence the first nationwide system of building codes and tighten them every year through 2030. These codes will spark considerable demand for green building technologies, he says.