Thursday, March 05, 2009

Clean Energy and Governments’ Greenest Bail-outs

Today’s FT article was quite revealing in the sense that even South Korea and China are spending proportionally larger than the US under Obama’s presidency. It’s not easy being green, even if you have powerful friends. The Obama administration’s $787bn stimulus package contains $56bn in grants and tax breaks for US clean energy projects. The proposed round of government spending in economies across the world represents a unique opportunity for green businesses. The increased investment could pull energy consumers towards using more renewables, create millions of new jobs in green industries and help to create a more efficient, low-carbon future.

However, proponents of a green stimulus also claim that there will be serious consequences if the money is misspent. Using this funding to continue with the sorts of infrastructure that we already have could mean that countries are committed to a path which has already led to a growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

The white bubbles on the right represent the total size of each county’s fiscal stimulus package, while the green bubbles inside are equivalent to the country’s allocation towards environmental initiatives.

On the other hand Obama’s billions are no panacea for the sector’s financing woes.

Global investment in clean energy is expected to hold steady at $150bn this year as banks and hedge funds hoard cash – a marked slowdown for an industry where investment grew 60 per cent per year in 2006 and 2007, according to New Energy Finance, a clean energy consultancy. As interest in new wind and solar projects wanes amid falling oil prices, and a lack of available credit stalls expansion of existing ones, anxious eyes are turning to the government.

Mr Obama’s stimulus includes calls for $38bn in direct government spending and $18bn in tax breaks for clean energy spread over the next 10 years, according to Dewey & LeBoeuf, the law firm. Owners of solar, wind and other clean energy facilities will be able to claim tax credits against the cost of equipment, helping attract big institutional investors that have been put off by uncertainty about taxes. But the short timeframe – credits can be claimed only for projects that are up and running in the next three to four years – means projects still on the drawing board may not be ready in time to qualify.

Plans for direct spending include $11bn for a new energy grid, $2bn in grants for battery technologies, and $6bn in loan guarantees for additional power plants and transmission lines. Such spending is well and good, assuming the money can be allocated efficiently by government bureaucrats. Recent experience at the Treasury, where staffers are being stretched to the limit doling out billions in bail-out money, suggests that is more easily said than done.

Source: FT 05.03.2009

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