Cascadia Capital

Clean Energy Could Be The NEXT BIG THING!

First, Ernst & Young referred to clean technology as the next industrial revolution. Now, Seattle investment firm Cascadia Capital likens sustainable industries to the early years of the Internet, saying in a new report:

"The clean energy sector is going through the same re-birth process. . . We are seeing better companies, better technology, better business models and better executives in this industry every day. We strongly believe that a lot of the companies we see and work with will be well known companies in the 2013-2014 timeframe. Green companies are rising from the ashes."

This shows once again that the clean-energy industry isn't dying as many claim. It is emerging, staggering forward unevenly like a toddler growing up. The implosion of government guarantee-recipient Solyndra wasn't a failure as much as it was a sign of maturation. It couldn't compete and, in business as in nature, the weak are early casualties.

As former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said at current Gov. Jerry Brown's climate conference last week: "All kinds of businesses failed at the same time as Solyndra, but no one hears about that. You make mistakes and you fail. That is the way business is."

Here is more on the conference.

Cascadia notes, as we have many times, that investors, entrepreneurs and researchers have been joined by the big bucks of Corporate America. Companies such as Boeing and Walmart see profit in sustainability. You can bet these large corporations wouldn't be investing in it if they didn't expect rosy returns at the end.

They are saving millions from efficiency measures, such as lighting retrofits that really do pay off (How about $300,000 per year for Canon!). They are boosting their sustainability departments and are joining governments, professional sports and schools in pledging to use more renewable energy. (more here, here and here.)

One of the world's richest men just announced plans to buy into his second gigantic solar farm - this one in Arizona - to complement one in California, a state with the most ambitious renewables mandate in the nation, an equally ambitious cap-and-trade plan and a robust green chemistry program.

Companies are even joining forces with state governments to build new cities dedicated to testing clean energy. Check out this fascinating proposal out of New Mexico, where a whole new kind of company town is in the offing.

Clearly, the green movement is gaining, even if the GOP slate of presidential candidates ignores it. Tom Engelhardt in a post entitled, "Restless Planet" calls it the "Fifth Occupation," and claims its already bubbling to the surface, much as the methane is bubbling up from formerly frozen terrain. See this New York Times piece.

"When they stand their ground and chant 'We exist!' in anger, strength, and wonder, maybe then we can really tackle climate change and hope it isn’t too late," he writes. "Maybe the fifth occupation is the one we’re waiting for -- and don't for a second doubt that it will come. It’s already on its way. "

Video: California Gov. Jerry Brown at CODA plant

Green energy may make big strides in 2011

Extracting energy from waste and significant moves by BP, Shell and Chevron into renewables will be among the big green stories for 2011, says a Seattle-based investment bank.

Cascadia Capital LLC also said in its annual clean-tech forecast that Congress will discard a cap-and-trade proposal on pollutants and that high oil prices will generate increased investment in natural gas, which has seen resurgence from new techniques unleashing major reserves.

“Energy policy and sustainable technologies continue to draw significant debate from consumers, pundits, politicians and investors around the world,” said Michael Butler, Cascadia chairman and CEO, in a statement. “In 2011, the energy landscape will be marked by significant investment activity from oil companies, M&A (mergers and acquisitions) of renewable energy companies, and the introduction of new technologies for transforming waste to energy. These markets will continue to draw a great deal of attention as oil prices continue to rise and the formation of a national energy policy is thrust back into the spotlight.”

In the newspaper business, where I spent 24 years of my life before this assignment, we'd all be rushing around about this time of year to get two things together.

One would be a summary of the year's top stories. The other would be a story that focused on what was expected to happen in the new year, much like what Cascadia has done here.

Every reporter was expected to collect and report on everything on his or her beat, or subjects covered. Most of us hated the task, grumbling the entire time. Our point? We'd already been covered those topics. "It's old news," we'd say. And the forecasts? We believed they were usually too general and be of little use, much like picking the Superbowl lineup a year in advance.

Our wrap stories would run on A1 during the holidays -- traditionally a time when news slows to a near stop. We'd recycle the best photos and frequently get the photogs to work up photo pages inside.

Of course, now I look upon it all fondly. And to an editor, tying up loose ends and looking ahead make sense. Back when I worked at the now deceased Anchorage Times in the early 1990s, I'd come up with the big fisheries story that would include a forecast of the salmon runs and the crab catch in the Bering Sea. Those were the big money stories and of interest to me since my grandfather, Lowell Wakefield, was one of the industry's pioneers.

At the Skagit Valley Herald, overlooking the tree-studded Puget Sound, my big stories would be farming, timber and the environment's battle with sprawl. When I went into editing full time and overseeing reporters, my subjects expanded to include crime, health care and in the Tri-Cities, the lovable Hanford nuclear site.

Now my scope has narrowed again, and I write mostly about green energy, tossing in somewhat relevant personal observations every now and then. And the traditions of my past encourage me again to cite my big stories and issue a forecast.

For the San Joaquin Valley, the top green news, at least from my perspective, has got to be energy efficiency. The Valley received a bundle from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, and while much of it remains unspent, the allocations will prove invaluable in reducing energy costs to jurisdictions.

Here at the SJVCEO, we've had significant delay getting Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant money spent for the 39 cities and counties our nonprofit represents. Most of the hurdles are bureaucratic and require seemingly endless administrative solutions and reports.

However, looking into my crystal ball I see our fortunes changing early next year. I see work getting done and that money getting spent.

In other green Valley news, 2010 was big in getting wind and solar projects moving forward. The golden eagle has slowed wind projects and tortoises messed with some solar efforts, but we expect some to soldier on and connect with the grid. Perhaps waste-to-energy projects at dairies and other biomass efforts will get the green light.

I'd like to say I had a clue about green jobs, but I don't. Like many across the country, I experienced an economy-related layoff. I watch as my beloved newspaper industry continues to contract. I would like to see green energy innovation provide a bright spot.

Will it happen in 2011? One can hope.