January 26, 2009

Financing Large-Scale Clean Energy Projects

Many people in the United States including President Barack Obama see value in expanding clean energy to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil and combat global warming, but the discourse often lack strategies to finance clean energy research and development. At the 5th Annual Clean-Tech Investor Summit held in Palm Springs, California from January 21-22, 2009, T. Boone Pickens, Founder and Chairman of BP Capital Management, suggested "that the U.S. should establish a federally funded loan program, or bank, to finance large-scale wind developments," according to the CNET article, "T. Boone Pickens: The U.S. needs a 'wind bank'". (Photo courtesy of Leonardo ENERGY)

The Pickens Plan, "launched in July, calls for spending $150 billion over the next 10 years to install turbines in the 'wind corridor' of the Midwest United States, from Texas to Canada. The other major plank of the plan is to convert vehicles to run on domestic natural gas. In both areas--wind and natural gas--Boone has business interests. If completed, his Mesa Power wind project will make 4,000 megawatts of electricity, which would make it one of the largest wind farms, capable of powering 1.3 million homes."

"Boone has made a down payment on $2 billion worth of General Electric wind turbines, which are set for delivery in 2011. The credit crisis, however, has disrupted the financing for the project, although Boone still thinks the project will get done....To help wind developers and achieve the Pickens Plan target of 20 percent of electricity from wind, Boone said that the U.S. government should establish a 'wind bank' that would give wind developers loans. A wind bank would be a 'fraction' of the projected $825 million in federal spending on a stimulus package, he said. It would also be cheaper than continuing to spend money on foreign oil, he argued."

Although I have not read the details of the Pickens Plan, in general, I support the idea of making federal funds available to develop wind and other clean energy projects in the United States. The challenge regarding clean energy is creating and implementing projects that can meet the power needs of major urban centers. There are several entrepreneurs with large-scale ideas that require capital to implement their business plans.

The Cleantech Summit website summarizes the financial challenges very clearly, "In today’s turbulent markets, accessing expansion capital and project finance for clean-tech scale-up, manufacturing, and development projects can be a daunting task." Creating a federally-funded loan program to support clean energy entrepreneurs is worth establishing.

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