Environment Forum

Ted Turner returns to solar

tedturnerU.S. billionaire Ted Turner is taking a shine to solar power — again.

Back in 2007, Turner sold solar developer Turner Renewable Energy to solar panel maker First Solar for $34.4 million — which has since ramped up its push into developing its own solar power projects.

Now Turner is teaming up with Atlanta-based utility Southern Company to develop renewable energy in the United States. To start, they will focus on large-scale solar farms in the U.S. Southwest, where solar development is already heating up in states like California and Arizona.

Some of the projects could end up on Turner’s land. He is the largest individual land owner in North America with more than two million acres.  

The move could expand the reach of Southern Company, which serves customers in Georgia, Mississippi and Florida and has more than 42 gigawatts of generating capacity.

(Photo: Philanthropist Ted Turner speaks during a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York in September 2009. Photo credit: Chip East / Reuters)

Solar power mounts in Canada

canadaflag Solar power is heating up in the northern reaches of  Canada, a country not exactly known for its sunny rays and warm weather.

The industry has seen a heap of news from the region this week. US. solar heavyweight First Solar and Canadian pipeline company Enbridge announced that they are quadrupling the size of a solar farm in Ontario.

That’s on top of Chinese solar company Canadian Solar’s plans for a new $23 million plant in the province and a supply deal for Suntech in Ontario, too.

Thank you, EPA: U.S. solar companies

tomwernerMany businesses chafed on Monday at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s declaration that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.

But executives at the two largest U.S. solar power companies took a shine to the statement, which clears the way for federal regulation and came as a global climate summit opened in Copenhagen.  Now they’ll keep their eyes on Congress to act on future legislation.

First Solar’s chairman and former chief executive Mike Ahearn called the EPA’s move “an affirmation of the administration’s commitment to addressing climate change.”

Are U.S. solar jobs here to stay? Senators fight for a yes.

A trio of U.S. senators this week introduced a bill to spur solar manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Through additional tax credits, the legislation aims to encourage more U.S. companies to make solar equipment, creating jobs and building up the country’s clean energy economy.

Many — from politicians and environmentalists to investors –  have pinned great hopes on green jobs. Clean energy could create 850,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States, according to recent research Reuters reported this week.

Cloudy days for green stocks

The federal stimulus bill hasn’t been a ticket to prosperity for clean energy investors.According to Environment America, a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organizations, over 4 percent of the $787 billion dollar stimulus package passed in February was ear-marked for clean energy projects.Yet the Reuters Business of Green Index, a basket of 14 green stocks, has fared poorly over the last three months, down over 20 percent against the S&P 500 Index.Why isn’t the stimulus bill, which appears to be helping many stocks, not having the desired effect in the greentech and clean energy sectors?”What happens in Washington for the time being is nowhere near as relevant as you might think,” said Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov.He notes that green stocks are heavily dependent on the solar industry, 90 percent of which is outside the United States:”Even though there is a large array of clean tech stocks to invest in, the most attractive green stocks and the certainly the largest ones are in the solar stage. And solar has been doing quite poorly because there is quite simply an overcapacity in the global solar industry.”That has put pressure on prices, margins and earnings. Not surprisingly, solar stocks have fared poorly.Suntech Power Holdings, one of the 14 green companies selected by Reuters, had lost 13 percent of it’s value in August when it reported second quarter earnings. Shares of China’s Yingli Green Energy and U.S. panel maker SunPower Corp were down about 17 percent, and First Solar‘s stock was down nearly 15 percent in the same period.Not all of the news is cloudy, but Molchanov says it’s not time to put away the umbrella just yet.”The good news is that sentiment has gotten so negative that it probably doesn’t take much for it to start improving and expectations for earnings are generally pretty low. So that’s helping, but the overcapacity in the market is not going away in the foreseeable future.”

Concerns about fed probe of First Solar deal overblown, some analysts say

Shares of U.S. solar company First Solarhave dropped about 7 percent this week on concerns about a federal review of the company’s recent acquisition of rival OptiSolar, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

However, in a note to clients on Wednesday, Pacific Crest analyst Mark Bachman called the story “sensational, at best.” A day earlier, Cowen and Company analyst Robert Stone said “the issue looks overdone.” Both have “outperform” ratings on First Solar.

According to Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s inspector general is probing whether OptiSolar’s applications to develop 136,000 of public land were included in the value of the $400 million deal.In the event of an acquisition, applications can be transferred from one company to another, Bedrosian said, though no value can be attached to them.

Introducing the Reuters Global Green Portfolio

As part of Reuters new Green Business section, we have chosen a diverse group of companies to serve as a proxy for the emerging green technology sector. Over the coming months we’ll be discussing each of them at length, and rebalancing our portfolio to reflect trends in the industry.

Click here to see our portfolio in action. You can track our performance against benchmarks, comment on our choices, and create a portfolio of your own.

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Comverge, Inc is one of the leading demand-response companies, known for their role in limiting electricity use during peak demand, employing technology to manage large companies’ power usage and control their costs. Their software can automatically adjust an air conditioner’s temperature or turn off a swimming pool pump when power supplies are tight, reducing prices for suppliers and end users by lowering end user demand at peak times.

First Solar chief thinks solar backpacks are “cool”

Voltaic Systems Solar BackpackSolar power company First Solar may be worth $19.6 billion, but its CEO is still tickled by the latest “green” consumer products.

Take solar backpacks, for instance. The trendy totes boast photovoltaic solar panels that generate power for consumers to recharge their iPods, digital cameras or other electronic devices.

“Things like the solar backpack, things that are off-grid… that can be intermittent or even charging a small battery, that stuff’s kind of cool. And there’s a real functional use to that,” Ahearn said in an interview with Reuters.

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