For Solar Stocks, Stimulus May Brighten ‘Dour’ 2009

Photo courtesy of American Council On Renewable Energy
Photo courtesy of American Council On Renewable Energy

It was just last summer that solar companies were among the high fliers of the stock market, stoked by the buzz of alternative energy and the good clean tech vibes about energy from the sun. But lower oil prices and the economic downturn brought many solar stock prices down to earth. Indeed, in an earnings wrap-up this week, Reuters reported a “dour view of 2009” for solar companies (http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUKN2444206220090225?rpc=44).

The stimulus package signed into law by President Obama should be good news, however, in part by prompting some large utilities to jump aboard, according to Julia Hamm, executive director of the Solar Electric Power Association. She noted the stimulus allows utilities a 30 percent tax credit and “more utilities will build and own solar facilities” (http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10171036-54.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20). Sure enough, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (http://www.pge.com/) announced a five-year program to produce 500 megawatts of solar power not from one plant but from a collection of small projects (from 1-20 megawatts) on rooftops and poles in Northern and Central California. It was the first time in 10 years that PG&E has invested directly in renewable energy, according to CNET. Then Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG, http://www.nrgenergy.com/) made headlines this week by investing in Idealab company eSolar Inc (http://www.esolar.com/) of Pasadena, CA. That paves the way for NRG to invest in solar plants, including the 240-megawatt project eSolar intends to build for Southern California Edison, a division of Edison International.

Perhaps awaiting a stimulus effect, many smallcap solar companies are limping along at 52-week lows. China-based ReneSola Ltd (NYSE:SOL, http://www.renesola.com/) has dropped down to $2.56 from a high of $29.48 last summer. Merrimack, NH-based GT Solar International (Nasdaq: SOLR, http://www.gtsolar.com/), which manufactures equipment used in making solar modules, trades at $4.42, up from its 88-cent low in late fall but still off its high of $14.45. And Marlboro, MA-based Evergreen Solar (Nasdaq: ESLR, http://www.evergreensolar.com/), a pure solar play, is languishing at $1.33, way off its summertime high of $12.64.

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