This Week In Green Energy: Obama’s New Drill

Week of March 29 – to – April 2, 2010

The drill flip

Why did he do it? That was the question many people asked this week after President Obama endorsed offshore oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic Coast, from Delaware to central Florida, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s north coast. The announcement follows 14 months of aggressive pro-green policies by the Obama administration.

President Obama justified his decision as an extension of his ongoing “pan-energy” policy, in which renewable energy is one prong and the development of next-generation nuclear reactors and exploration for new oil reserves is the other.

Politically, after a bruising, yearlong fight in Congress over health care, the Obama administration sees offshore drilling as a bi-partisan issue that could get Republicans to support a comprehensive climate change and energy bill. Will it? That’s hard to predict, as Republicans, saying his move doesn’t go far enough, quickly criticized the president for maintaining the ban on much of the Pacific Coast. His decision, not surprisingly, also angered the environmental community.

“We’re very disappointed to see important areas like the Arctic coast and the Mid and South Atlantic stay open to oil drilling,” . “What we need is bold, decisive steps toward clean energy, like the new clean cars regulations announced this week—not more dirty, expensive offshore drilling.”

As a political play, the decision seems to have backfired. By trying to please everyone, Obama may have ended up pleasing no one.

As an energy policy, the president’s decision might make sense. It would diversify U.S. oil and gas production “beyond its current Gulf of Mexico heartlands,” . Although getting to that oil remains decades away.

Michael Levi, an energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the new exploration (and production) could generate $900 billion in new revenues, and their shareholders but with little impact at the pump for end consumers. How these potential revenues are split between the federal government, states and oil and gas companies also remains an open question.

“Depending on the details, [the drilling] could be a significant benefit for Americans,” Levi wrote in a commentary. “That said, the bulk of the revenues would likely go to the companies (and shareholders), and the sums would be spread over several decades, lessening the public benefit of the move.”

Investors, it appears, have an ongoing appetite for the green energy sector. Globally, cleantech start-ups received $1.9 billion the first three months of 2010, an 83 percent boost from the first quarter of 2009, according to a Deloitte report released this week. The biggest beneficiaries were electric carmakers and energy-efficiency companies. Underscoring investors’ cautious approach—and cleantech companies’ steep capital needs—most of the new investments flowed to existing companies instead of start-ups.

BP, the British oil and gas company and one of the sector’s largest investors, announced this week it is shutting down its Frederick, Md., solar power plant, and shifting production to joint ventures in China and India. Chief Executive Tony Hayward said that given the low price of photovoltaic cells, producing in the U.S. didn’t make economic sense. The company, which has been refocusing its investments on its core oil and gas company, said it was not walking away from its green commitments. Having invested $4 billion in the alternative energy space over the past four years, BP is “absolutely committed to solar,” Hayward told The Washington Post.

The Cape Wind saga continued this week, when the Boston company announced a new supply agreement with Siemens Energy Inc. for 130 wind turbines for its controversial proposed offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The developer in 2003 inked a first deal with General Electric but was forced to look for a new supplier when GE left the offshore wind turbine business.

Is this just a press release or could the news foreshadow a positive decision by the Interior Department, which is expected to rule on a federal permit for Nantucket project in the next couple of weeks? A negative ruling by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar would be surprising, given his strong commitment to develop the country’s offshore capacity.  The announcement is a milestone for Cape Wind, opening the gate to another crucial requirement for the $1 billion offshore initiative: Securing financing.

VC Watch:

Codexis, the developer of next-generation biofuels backed by Royal Dutch Shell, is prepping for a second try at an initial public offering. The flotation could raise as much as $100 million for the company, the latest cleantech venture to dip its toe into the public markets.

Suniva Inc., the Norcross, Ga.-based solar cell manufacturer backed by Goldman Sachs and New Enterprise Associates and H.I.G. Ventures, announced it’s being considered for a $141 million loan from the Energy Department to build a new 400-megawatt capacity manufacturing plant in Saginaw County, Mich.

Privately held Integrated Photovoltaics has raised $8.5 million in a first round of funding led by Peninsula Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based VC firm.

Glacier Bay Inc., a developer of DC power and thermal management technologies, has raised $15 million as part of a Series C funding led by City Light Capital.

Petaluma, Calif.-based Enphase Energy, maker of solar microinverter systems, has raised $40 million in a private financing, led by Bay Partners.

Rambling

The price of photovoltaic cells over the past year has melted by as much as 50 percent, opening new markets and ensuring increased demand. The declining prices, however, generate other challenges. That was apparent this week with BP’s announcement to shutdown its U.S. PV plant. At PVs’ current prices, BP concluded that it’s better off producing its panels in China and India. Does this short-circuit Obama’s plan to create millions of “green collar” jobs? Possibly. But it’s hard to provide a clear answer. While BP packs up and goes east, several cleantech, mostly Chinese, companies are setting up shop in the U.S. And, they are not merely opening marketing offices but large manufacturing lines. What we’re seeing are two different strategies, both supporting a single goal: capturing market shares.

Image: iStockphoto

One Response to “This Week In Green Energy: Obama’s New Drill”

  1. says:

    For a little over 1-year now I have been reviewing all of the various comments, blogs and reports regarding the renewable and clean energy discussion. Anyone that is truly interested in advancing the use of alternative energies needs to understand that it can actually happen if and only if, they start appealing to individual’s “common sense”.
    When spoken about from a Political tone or even from a Social and Environmental voice, people tend not to want to listen. The fact is most people are disgusted with the political overtures thrown around the country. Once they get a sense that a politician is speaking of the subject, whether it be for the good or not, they tune out and the movement goes nowhere. The same rings true if spoken by an environmental activist type. The fact here is, most people do not want to be thought of as some “environmental greenie” type. Although, if the discussion were framed as an appeal to their “common sense” such as: 1) do you think we should STOP buying/importing oil from overseas…? Everyone spoken to would without a doubt answer emphatically YES! 2) Mention, are you aware that the U.S. uses 25% of all the world’s oil but, can only produce 2% – so unless we do something else, we can’t stop importing oil to survive. 3) Ask, are you aware that the U.S. Government, especially the military are currently using all sorts of renewable and clean energy to conduct their various business. 4) Express to the U.S. public that in China, only 1% of the population owns a car, yet the Chinese Government is aggressively pushing with big incentives its’ citizens to purchase automobiles, and that China’s population of course, is 3-times the size of ours – then ask, where do you think gasoline prices are going once their driving citizens get onboard? 5) Explain how by going renewable your electric bills will decrease. Of course however, if there is not a great demand for the renewable energy source, the prices will initially be higher to the U.S. consumer but, if the demand were to arrive, prices would decrease.
    The tone of the conversation must change if there is to be any headway made in the advancements of renewable energy. EVERYBODY would welcome the change if and only if, the texture of the discussion was different. Take a peek at a new site online,
    It is my understanding that they are trying to change the texture of the discussion. Good for them, but better for the American people because, the current dialog hasn’t and isn’t getting us anywhere.

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