From the August 2009 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Alternative Energy Twisting in the Wind

Last July in this column ("Energy Is in the Air"), I wrote enthusiastically about T. Boone Pickens's plans to build the world's largest wind farm in the Texas panhandle. Unfortunately, for a number of practical reasons that plan has been put on indefinite hold. Instead Pickens plans to build three or four smaller wind farms at a cost of about $2 billion. The major factors in the decision were the lack of transmission lines that would allow electricity created by the farm's wind turbines to feed into the power grid and the drop in the price of natural gas, which competes with wind as a power source.

Pickens still plans to take delivery on the 687 large wind turbines he had ordered from General Electric starting in 2011. Once operational they would have a capacity of 1,000 megawatts, about a quarter of the amount envisioned in his original plan.

The Pickens plan was not the only one to cut back on ambitious alternative energy plans, notes New Energy Finance, a London-based research firm. Although New Energy reports there were increases in the second quarter of this year, new investment in clean energy worldwide is down significantly from last year. "New investment in Q2 was remarkably weak in the U.S., with new-build asset finance at just $1.6 billion, down two-thirds on the same quarter in 2008," the research noted. At the same time, due to big deals in offshore solar and wind, investment in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East reached more than $14 billion, the highest quarterly figure on record.

"Our global futures analysis of energy markets in the next two decades shows that world new investment in clean energy will have to reach $500 billion/year if emissions are to be brought under control before 2020," noted Michael Liebrich, chairman and CEO of New Energy. That level of investment is still a long way off, but if governments really want to limit the increase in global temperatures, Liebrich says they will have to "take further steps to force change on the energy and transport sectors."

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