News Column

Energy Industries Gaining Momentum

March 12, 2012

Richard Larsen, Deputy Managing Editor

"It will be the policy of my administration," President Obama said in April 2009 as he unveiled his new administration's energy policy, "to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs."

Among the "New Energy for America" plan's provisions were calls to have a clean energy future that would create 5 million new jobs in 10 years, for 10 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable energy by this year, for a cap-and- trade program on greenhouse gas emissions and to put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015.

Nearly three years later, after solar-panel maker Solyndra went bankrupt without paying back half a billion dollars in federal loans, after Congress failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill and with gasoline prices rising to more than $4 a gallon, many people wonder: What happened to Mr. Obama's energy policy?

This presidential election year, the seeming lack of progress on Mr. Obama's energy policy has become political fodder for the opposition. "Obama's Failure at the Pump," a recent email from the Republican National Committee screeched: "After promising to solve the energy crisis 'once and for all,' the change Obama gave us was no energy policy for four years."

Opportunities Abound
Despite such election-year rhetoric about the seeming lack of progress on Mr. Obama's energy policy, many things are occurring to show some progress in the area of clean energy, which can provide some intriguing opportunities for Hispanic entrepreneurs.

In this issue's "Green Is Gold" article, George Munoz, principal and CEO of Munoz Investment Banking Group LLC in Arlington, Va., noted that the Southwestern states, where a large number of Hispanics live, are areas ripe for capturing wind and solar energy. In the same article, John J. Chavez, president of the New Mexico Angels and managing director of the Phase One Venture startup fund in Santa Fe, N.M., noted several investment opportunities in clean-tech and green-energy fields that his firm is considering.

In this issue's "The Blinding Sun" article, Odes Armijo-Caster, cooperator of Sacred Power Corp., a solar company in Albuquerque, N.M., notes that the company has been growing at 20 to 30 percent per year and expects a similar growth rate this year. In that same article, Gonzalo de la Melena, president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, noted that "Arizona is quickly becoming a center for solar- based technology" and the booming Hispanic population in the state "means Hispanic entrepreneurs are poised to become future leaders in the field."

Though the 1603 Program -- a provision of the Recovery Act -- that partially reimbursed the cost of installing energy property ended in December, Mr. Obama has included it in his 2013 bud get. With investors finding clean energy a ripe area of opportunity and a growing number of people wanting to be part of the clean energy movement, this could be a good time for savvy Hispanic entrepreneurs to get into the field.

Under the Radar
Wind and solar energy have been the stars of the clean energy effort for years. Greentech Media Research said that solar energy installations in 2010 added to the economy $6 billion in direct value. According to the American Wind Energy Association website, "the U.S. wind industry has added more than 35 percent of all new generating capacity over the past four years .... Today, U.S. wind power capacity represents more than 20 percent of the world's installed wind power."

Another form of clean energy use is barely on the market but poised to make a good showing -- the new breed of electric car. In fact, Michael Grabell, author of the book "Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History," argues that the electric car owes its current revival to the Obama administration stimulus.

Nissan has the Leaf, Chevrolet has the Volt and Ford is producing an electric Focus. Several other companies are working on electric vehicles, including Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive.

In an article that was adapted from his book and published on the Propublica website under the title "How the Stimulus Revived the Electric Car," Mr. Grabell writes: "If it wasn't for the stimulus, the companies say, they would have built these plants overseas."

One major reason for the resurgence of electric car manufacturing was that the stimulus allowed manufacturers to improve work on the lithium and lithium-ion batteries that power the electric cars. "More than $1 billion of stimulus money was spent to open and expand battery factories," Mr. Grabell wrote.

Though production of the new breed of electric cars has been under way for more than a year, sales have yet to reach the point where there would be 1 million on the road by 2015. Several factors might blunt this goal -- sluggish consumer purchases because of the higher price and the lack of charging stations.

Mr. Grabell quoted Annette Herrera, who works at A123 Systems, a battery manufacturer in Michigan, on the slow sales of electric cars:

"When the flat-screen TVs first came out, they were way expensive, and now they're reasonably priced," she said. "I think that's going to be the same thing with electric automobiles. This is a new product. It's going to take time."

Good and Bad
Another area of Mr. Obama's energy policy that has seen some progress is in reducing this nation's dependence on foreign oil. In his Jan. 26 State of the Union speech, he said that last year this nation "relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years." Unfortunately, achieved caused much consternation, especially among his supporters.

"Over the last three years, we've opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration," Mr. Obama touted in his State of the Union address, "and to¬night, I'm directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our po¬tential offshore oil and gas resources."

That effort was precisely what former Vice President Al Gore criticized in the June 22, 2011, issue of Rolling Stone maga¬zine: "Senate advocates -- including one Republican -- felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive ex¬pansion of oil drilling in the United States."

Mr. Gore also criticized the president for doing little to make passage of the cap-and-trade initiative a priority in the Senate. However, new rules issued last summer allow 27 states to reduce power plant emissions by setting a cap on how much pollution a plant can produce and allowing companies that exceed the lim¬its to buy credits from plants in other states that pollute less.

The Bottom Line
Increased solar energy and wind power to produce electricity, the stimulus plan helping revitalize the electric car industry, even reducing the nation's dependence on oil, all show Mr. Obama's energy program has made some, albeit sluggish progress. Yet, efforts on clean energy continue.

Feb. 23, the Energy Department an¬nounced that 142 small businesses across the nation were starting work on 180 research projects that ranged from designing better wind turbines to devel¬oping instruments to improve nanoma¬terials (extraordinarily small-scale mate¬rials) to make new coatings to improve the efficiency of gas turbines. According to a news release from the Energy De¬partment, the grants totaled $26.4 mil¬lion and the projects under way would help develop new energy technologies.

One thing is clear: All accounts sug¬gest the clean energy sector will gain mo¬mentum. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress on Feb. 16 that "trillions of dollars will be invested in clean energy in the coming decades." And the articles that follow in this issue show that private in¬vestors are watching clean energy trends closely and those businesses already in the clean energy sector are growing.

A very large pie is up for grabs -- one that can give Hispanic entrepreneurs the opportunity to found and grow busi¬nesses, and one that can create tremen¬dous employment opportunities for the growing Hispanic workforce. Not only is this good for the economy, it's good for the environment, which makes it a very tasty pie in the offering.

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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