Warren Buffett’s ‘World’s Largest Solar Power Development’ Underway near LA

It’s being billed as the “world’s largest solar power development,” the joint construction effort started in January by Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Solar and SunPower Corp. north of downtown Los Angeles in Kern and Los Angeles counties. Officially called the Antelope Valley Solar Projects, the 3,230-acre development in two co-located projects are scheduled to generate 579 megawatts, or enough energy to power 400,000 average California homes or about 2 million people.

MidAmerican Solar is a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., which is controlled by Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffett is the primary investor, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

The two companies calculate that the electricity powered by the project will displace an estimated 775,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, which they say is equal to taking about 3 million cars off the road over the next 20 years. MidAmerican  owns the development and SunPower is the designer, engineer and contractor for the construction and will operate and maintain the project. Southern California Edison is the customer that will purchase the power when it is completed by year-end 2015.

One of the other big solar power stories  of the week, “The Incredible Shrinking Cost of Solar Energy “(http://www.juancole.com/2013/05/incredible-shrinking-projects.html notes that thanks to the “dramatic fall in the cost of solar power generation” solar is at grid parity in many parts of the world, including Germany, Portugal, Italy and Spain, as well in the southwestern U.S.

Other data points in these stories include:

  • The cost of the best Chinese solar panels fell in cost by 50 percent between 2009-2012. Over the next two years, cost reductions will “slow” to a 30 percent rate.
  • By 2015 solar panels are expected to fall to 42 cents per watt.
  • U.S. solar installations rose 76 percent in 2012.
  • Hybrid plants that include both solar and wind turbines dramatically increase efficiency and help integrate into the electrical grid.

Given some of the interesting developments in solar power, how have some of the solar stocks fared in the past few months?

San Mateo, CA-based SolarCity Corp. (Nasdaq: SCTY, http://www.solarcity.com/ designs, installs and sells or leases solar energy systems to residential and commercial customers, as well as electric vehicle charging products.  It closed March 15 at $16.74 with a market cap of $406.5 million. By April 12 it was trading at $19.97 with a market cap of $1.5 billion. SCTY closed May 8 at $24.16, up 50 cents for the day with a market cap of $1.8 billion. Its 52-week trading range is $9.20-$28.23.

Ontario, Canada-based Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ, http://www.canadian-solar.com/ ), which sells a variety of solar products, closed back on March 15 at $3.50 with a market cap of $151 million. It closed April 12 at $4.07 with a market cap of $176 million. CSIQ closed May 8 at $5.29, down 17 cents for the day, with a market cap of $228 million. Its 52-week trading range is $1.95-$6.09.

San Jose, CA-based SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR, http://www.sunpowercorp.com/), which makes a wide variety of solar products and systems and is one of the principals in the Antelope Valley Solar Project, closed back on March 15 at $11.80 with a market cap of $1.4 billion. SPWR closed April 12 at $11.06. It closed May 8 at $15.36, down 6 cents for the day, with a market cap of $1.8 billion. Its 52-week trading range is $3.71-$16.04.

China-based Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL, http://www.trinasolar.com/) designs, manufactures and sells photovoltaic modules worldwide. Back on March 15, TSL closed at $4.11 with a market cap of $291 million. It closed April 12 at $4.19 with a  market cap of $335 million. TSL closed May 8 at $4.72, down 22 cents for the day. Its 52-week trading range is now $2.04-$7.67.

China-based Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (NYSE: YGE, http://www.yinglisolar.com/ makes photovoltaic products including cells, modules and systems. YGE closed back on March 15 at $2.47 with a market cap of $387 million. It closed April 12 at $2.12 with a market cap of $324 million. YGE closed May 8 at $2.20, down 7 cents for the day, with a market cap of $356 million. Its 52-week trading range is $1.25-$3.68.

China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP, http://am.suntech-power.com/), the world’s largest producer of solar panels, closed at $0.70 back on March 15 with a market cap of $127 million. It closed May 8 at $0.51, down 7 cents for the day, with a market cap of $92 million. Its 52-week trading range is $0.30-$2.67.

St. Peters, MO-based MEMC Electronic Materials (NYSE:WFR, http://www.memc.com/) manufactures and sells silicon wafers and photovoltaic materials. Through SunEdison, it’s a developer of solar energy products. It closed March 15 at $4.53 with a market cap of $1 billion. WFR closed April 12 at $4.76 with a market cap of $1 billion. WFR closed May 8 at $5.33, down 6 cents for the day, with a market cap of $1.2 billion. Its 52-week trading range is $1.44-$5.70.

Offshore Wind Energy Projects Generating a Buzz

Wind energy and its potential to power a large swath of the East Coast has generated a surge of news activity in recent weeks. First, in late September, conservation advocacy group Oceana released a study suggesting that offshore wind over the Atlantic Ocean could indeed power much of the East Coast and at the same time be much friendlier to the environment than other energy alternatives including natural gas, coal, oil or nuclear energy. The Oceana study (http://na.oceana.org/en/our-work/climate-energy/clean-energy/offshore-wind-report/report) came on the heels of a U.S. Department of Energy draft plan for creating a offshore wind energy program for the U.S.

Wind Turbines, photo courtesy of Western Wind Energy

Those studies were followed by a blockbuster New York Times piece on October 12 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/science/earth/12wind.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=matthew%20wald&st=cse) reporting that Google and two other companies, one a New York financial firm, have agreed to invest millions of dollars in a 350-mile underwater transmission “spine” cable along the Atlantic coast that would transfer the energy created by offshore wind turbines to what the Wall Street Journal estimated to be 1.9 million households along the East Coast from Virginia to New Jersey. Along with Google, the investment firm Good Energies and Marubeni, a Japanese trading company, have all agreed to invest in what is called the Atlantic Wind Connection.

As now envisioned, the five-phase project would begin in 2013, be completed in 2020 and be constructed 15 to 20 miles offshore, thereby eliminating much of the criticism of visual blight from the turbines that has plagued other high-profile wind turbine projects such as the country’s first offshore wind project called Cape Wind off Cape Cod.  The cable would have a 6,000 megawatt capacity, which The Times says is equal to the output of five large nuclear reactors.

Most experts agree that an offshore transmission line would spur the construction of various offshore wind farms since developers would not need to create their own individual transmission lines, according to the Journal story.

This has to be good news for the burgeoning smallcap companies involved in wind farms and turbines, but just who might capitalize is hard to say at this point. Here is a short list of some of those smallcaps:

Fergus Falls, MN-based Otter Tail Corporation (Nasdaq: OTTR, http://www.ottertail.com) is involved in wind energy transmission but is now focused soley on Minnesota and the Dakotas. The stock price ($21.27 this week) has rallied with the rest of the market since September but is still off its 52-week high of $52.39 set last January. Since wind energy is a small part of its business and its base is in the heartland, not the coast, this could be a stretch.

Vancouver-based Western Wind Energy (CDNX: WND.V, http://www.westernwindenergy.com) is also based far west of the Atlantic. It’s currently trading for about $1.20 but since it doesn’t trade on a U.S. exchange there is little news on progress. The last headline noted that the company had closed a $2 million corporate loan but otherwise there is not much to go on.

London-based Clipper Windpower (OTC: CRPWF.PK, http://www.clipperwind.com) is a pure wind energy play but is another small stock with very little trading. It seems to be sitting at about $0.78 with no recent activity. While it’s based overseas, it does have operations in the Americas.

CleanEquityMonaco: A Must-Do for the Greentech Aficionado or Investor March 4-5

One of the high points of the greentech year is coming up March 4-5: CleanEquityMonaco (http://www.cleanequitymonaco.com) in the picturebook-lovely city of Monte Carlo.  Interestingly enough it is not a costly conference to attend, probably because it has very distinguished sponsors, and probably worthwhile even for Americans to fly to.  The conference has arranged very attractive hotel rates, a fraction of what one would expect on the Riviera, and quite reasonable flights can be found from the Northeast to Nice (which is the airport for Monaco as well).

Monaco Harbor from the Old City

CEM is a meetingplace for people with new and significant green technologies of all types, and from all over the globe.  There are several plenary meetings set, and some very distinguished guest speakers as well.  Awards for the best technologies and best commercializations will be made by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and HSH Prince Albert II.  The conference coincides with an annual meeting of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and green technocrats from all over the world will be in town at the same time.

But the real show are the new technologies themselves.  The publisher of this blog, Allen & Caron (http://www.allencaron.com) is working with the conference organizers on a pro bono basis, and we have admired the arrangements as they have been made over the last 6-8 months. 

Loopwing Wind Turbine from Japan -- meet them at CEM March 4-5

For obvious reasons, the largest category of new technologies will be in the field of alternative energy: solar, wind, new fuels, etc.  But there will also be environmental technologies that run the gamut.  The sponsor and organizer is London-based Innovator Capital (http://www.innovator-capital.com), a boutique investment bank and financial advisor with a devotion to environmental causes, and there will be investment bankers prowling around looking for clients, as well as technocrats from big multinationals looking for acquisitions and partnerships.  Many of the companies that are showing new technologies are not listed or publicly traded, and quite a few are really post-academic, though all have demonstrated proof of what they claim to be able to accomplish.  All are scrappy, feisty, fearless and have new mind-bending ideas.

Some “hot” publicly listed companies will also be presenting, including Shanghai-based China Energy Recovery, Oak Park MI-based Azure Dynamics, Torrance CA-based Enova Systems, Oxford UK-based Oxford Catalysts, Southboro MA-based Protonex, Cuxhaven Germany-based PNE Wind, Perth Australia-based Enerji Ltd,  and Griesheim Germany-based BGI EcoTech.

Jigar Shah, CEO of The Carbon War Room

The keynote speaker will be Jigar Shah, CEO of The Carbon War Room(http://www.carbonwarroom.com) , a noted authority on renewable energy, and the founder of SunEdison, which has more megawatts of solar energy under management than any other company in the world.  Mr Shah is an alumnus of BP Solar, a DOE contractor on fuel cells and alternative energy, and a member of several boards, including Greenpeace USA and the Prometheus Institute. 

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou

Sir Stelios will introduce the Next Wave segment of new technologies on the second day of the conference.  He is best known for having founded EasyJet, a leading lowcost airline that has revolutionized European travel, but he is also the founder of several other companies.  His Stelios Philanthropic Foundation is devoted to environmental sustainability, education and entrepreneurship. 

We highly recommend that you consider attending.  The cost is reasonable and the technology rewards potentially earth-changing.  Some of these concepts will completely reorder the way you see the world.

50 Emerging CleanTechs Each Year: An Interview with Mungo Park of CleanEquityMonaco

We had a conversation with  our old friend, Mungo Park, on Friday the 23rd, primarily to talk about the annual CleanEquityMonaco conference (http://www.cleanequitymonaco.com/) hosted by his company, London-based boutique investment bank, Innovator Capital (http://www.innovator-capital.com/).  The 2010 edition of CleanEquityMonaco* is set forMarch 4-5, 2010, and it will follow the established mandate of finding 50 of the most innovative and potentially world-changing emerging technologies in the cleantech/greentech world. 

 

Innovator Capital's Mungo Park, organizer of CleanEquityMonaco

Innovator Capital's Mungo Park, organizer of CleanEquityMonaco

Mungo Park (a descendent of the 18th-century Scots explorer of the same name) has spent most of his professional life working with emerging technology companies, largely in the role of  investment banker.  The Irish Mr Park started at Prudential Bache, and then came up through the ranks at northeastern US investment banks of legend, many swallowed up by larger institutions in the consolidation frenzy of the latter years of the 20th century: Alex Brown & Sons, Cowen & Company, Dillon Read & Co.  He headed Nomura’s European i-banking operation before founding Innovator Capital.  Innovator was at first devoted to life science banking, and broadened over the last 5-6 years to include cleantech banking, due to its obvious connection with preventive healthcare and societal wellness. 

The following are excerpts from the conversation:

SCW: You were originally attracted to life sciences.  Why are you now seeking out alternative energy and greentech companies?

MP: I was working on a financing for a company that had a technology to remove oxides of nitrogen from diesel emissions and I realized that not only was this a way to make people healthier (less asthma, fewer respiratory ailments), but the business plans of cleantech companies follow a similar pattern to what I had seen in biotech and healthcare in general.  That is, invention, research, development into a usable product, commercialization.  A biotech product has to survive 7-9 years of test, however, and in many cases a greentech product can be ready for market in 7-9 months, which means the potential for a return on investment is much closer, if the wheel lands on your number.  Most green technologies do not have to clear through an FDA-type regulator in order to be “legal,” which makes all the difference in the world, often reducing the length of time from conception to commercialization.

The most important reason I am working on cleantech is, however, that it ticks the “ethical box” — that is, it improves the quality of human life.  And that is also the reason for CleanEquityMonaco.

SCW: Other than the name, what’s different about CleanEquityMonaco?  There are greentech/cleantech scientific or financial conferences springing up everywhere.  And how does a company get invited to participate?

MP:  About the time I was becoming more and more interested in cleantech, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II became the sovereign of Monaco.  I have had the good fortune to know him and he has significant credentials in environmental issues.  Shortly after his accession I had a meeting with him and we came up with the idea for CleanEquityMonaco, a conference whose purpose is to introduce emerging/early-stage, innovative, next-generation technologies from all over the world.  The fields of interest are, broadly, clean energy, clean earth, clean water, clean air.

Many of the presenting companies are fresh out of academia or an inventor’s laboratory.  Many are working on their first proof of principle and are very early stage.  They need money, yes, but they need other things as well.  CleanEquityMonaco is set up as a platform to introduce them to sources of investment (financial and strategic), but also to media, politicians and political influencers, potential licensees and potential technology partners. 

As to how a company can be invited, there are numerous ways.  We have developed a list of about 300 companies that we are looking at ourselves.  Many of those, as it turns out, are not qualified because they are too large or too well-established.  We try to invite presenters who are below €250 million in fair value — and that is an important distinction between our search for emerging technologies and other conferences’ searches for faits accomplis.  But we accept nominations from people we trust, and apply our diligence principles to those.  We try for a geographic spread that is global, so we don’t want more than, say 10 companies from North America, preferring to be clearly and fairly global.  And we give some preference to companies that are not yet listed for trading in a public market — and that may not have that as a goal either.  We are interested in the entrepreneurial spirit as it affects the cleantech/greentech movement, and, potentially, the health of people around the world.

Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo

Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo

SCW: Why would a company want to present?

MP: If we put it together right — and so far the conferences have gone pretty well — in the 2 days of CleanEquityMonaco, the companies can cover a huge amount of ground.  They can save a lot of time and money because there is such a good mix of people there.  We have heard back from the participants that it is an extremely productive meeting.

We have two levels of participation for companies in different stages of development: full participation for companies who are post-development/expansion stage, and a “Next Wave” participation for companies who are pre-revenue/early-stage.  The Next Wave companies make a shorter presentation, but they have all the opportunities for networking which, in the final analysis, is what the conference is about.

SCW: We hear that Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou will be presenting a new award at the conference. 

MP: Of course Stelios is very well known in Europe as a hugely successful entrepreneur, perhaps most famous from EasyJet and EasyGroup, but from many businesses that he has started or encouraged from scratch.  And as a successful entrepreneur, he wants to give something back to the world.  He has been looking at cleantech for a while, and attended CleanEquityMonaco 2009.  He is sponsoring the conference, and has indeed agreed to present an award for entrepreneurship in cleantech, but he is particularly looking forward to meeting people, sharing his experience.  The Stelios Foundation (http://www.stelios.com/ ) has as its areas of interest: the environment, education and entrepreneurship.

SCW: What makes this conference different from other conferences?

MP: The extraordinary thing about this conference is the rich texture of participation.  We invite 50 companies to present, and about 300 attendees to mix, mingle and offer their help.  The focus is strictly on emerging technologies — not on upcoming financial deals.  The view is global, not country specific, and the attendees tend to be quite senior in their positions, representing international organizations like the UN, sovereign governments, big international corporations, academia, and finance.  We expect to see big multinationals there, shopping for investments and looking for junior partnerships — companies like Philips, GE, Siemens, Nissan and IBM.

Perhaps most important, the attendees go to Monte Carlo specifically for the conference, and they tend to be in attendance for all the sessions both days.  If we tried to do the same thing in London, we would have people popping in and out, coming to the lunch, and some presenters would get short shrift.  That is simply not the case in Monte Carlo.  It is a two-day event for everyone concerned, and the attendees tend to be at the conference 12 hours a day.

SCW: The upcoming conference will be the 3rd annual.  Have you had particular success stories that came out of the first two editions of CleanTechMonaco?

 MP: Several come to mind right away.  Zenergy Power (http://www.zenergypower.com/ ) presented in 2008; they are a superconductor energy technology company, listed on AIM, but operating in Germany, the US and Australia.  They have a variety of products targeted at electric utilities, and have done very well with the technology for transmitting large quantities of electricity over long distances with little or not leakage.  They got a large amount of recognition at CleanEquityMonaco, which also resulted in a lot of publicity.  Subsequently they have received additional funding and are, I believe, the first superconductor developer to be partnered by a major US utility.

Ener1 (http://www.ener1.com/ ) presented at that same meeting.  At the time they presented, they were pretty early-stage, and had recently restructured their capitalization.  They spent a good deal of their time at the conference with Think Electric, an auto company from Norway that was also presenting — and the two have subsequently partnered in several ways.  Ener1 has been a success story on the stock market, and was the recipient of a large US stimulus matching grant to expand its manufacturing in Indiana. 

Heliocentris Fuel Cells AG (http://www.heliocentris.com/en/about-us/profile.html) , based in Berlin and traded in Germany, is a hydrogen fuelcell company that presented to the 2009 conference.  Very soon thereafter they were able to announce a new financing that has helped them expand their business considerably.  They are partnered with many of the leading fuel-cell companies around the world.

US Geothermal (http://www.usgeothermal.com/) is headquartered in Idaho and traded on the NYSE Amex.  It is what its name implies: a company that uses the earth’s own heat to generate power.  They have had a steep growth trajectory, and were recently awarded a grant by DOE for a project in Oregon. 

Scots company Aquamarine Power (http://www.aquamarinepower.com/ ) is installing the world’s first nearshore wave energy device that will generate clean energy from the movement of waves.  They presented at the 2009 conference and have won numerous awards and commendations from all over the world.  They were able to raise a fair amount of new capital during a very difficult market subsequent to their participation in CleanEquityMonaco, and we are pleased that the timing was so propitious for them.

SCW: It is all business then?

MP:  CleanEquityMonaco is held in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the camaraderie that comes out of the meeting may be as important in some cases as the sharing of scientific developments. The meeting is small enough and senior enough that it helps create a network that’s not dissimilar to some “old school” or university networks — reaching all over the world and to many parts of society and industry. 

We have special rates from the best hotels in Monte Carlo: the fabulous Hotel de Paris, the beautiful beaux arts Hermitage, and the modern seaside Monte Carlo Bay Hotel.  We will be announcing several social events, including a CEO-only dinner on the night before the first day of meetings.  However serious we are, it is still Monte Carlo, after all.

SCW:  Many thanks. 

*Allen & Caron, publisher of this blog, is working with CleanEquityMonaco on a collegial basis in North America.

Mine It, Drill for It, then Push It Back Underground

Fossil fuels are usually found underground; we mine for them or drill for them.  Occasionally we find fossil substances boiling up to the surface, as in the LaBrea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, a major source of fossils of mastodons and sabre-toothed tigers and giant sloths. 

LaBrea Tar Pits -- Page Museum Los Angeles

LaBrea Tar Pits -- Page Museum Los Angeles

Interestingly enough we tend to want to store both fossil fuels and various other substances back underground, sometimes at pretty great depths too.  Everyone has read about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/reserves/spr/spr-facts.html) which consists of 4 sites where crude oil for national security reasons is stored in deep underground salt domes, where it is safely held, and cannot bleed out into the surrounding geology. 

As we become more and more aware of the effects of greenhouse gases, there is an assumption that those gases can be stored underground too.  http://www.enn.com/top_stories/commentary/39987.  Would it allow us to burn coal, for instance, if we could capture the CO2 and force it back underground, perhaps even deeper than the coal that contained it?   Shell certainly thinks so: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE54687K20090507?rpc=64.

That activity would be regulated by the EPA’s underground injection control unit (http://www.epa.gov/safewater/uic/wells_sequestration.html), which is the same group that regulates the injection of water into underground wells to keep it from flowing into surface water, and sometimes to increase the pressure in the well itself.

If there is an industry in storing things underground, how would an investor find companies that might benefit from it?  Well, to start off with you could look at some o f the energy industry giants like Shell, but that is clearly not a pureplay in underground storage.

There are several US-based energy-oriented companies that  have major natural-gas storage caverns, injecting future fuels and chemical feedstocks into underground facilities, most frequently salt domes, such as occur naturally around the western end of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas and Louisiana.

Kansas City MO-based Inergy (Nasdaq: NRGY, http://www.inergypropane.com/) operates a natural-gas underground storate facility in upstate New York (salt domes occur everywhere, not just in TX and LA).  Although it is a full-spectrum natural gas company, an investor could look at their shares, which are trading around $24.58 vs a year-high of $29.49, with average daily volume of about 260,000 shares and a market cap of about $1.4 billion.

Other companies with significant underground natural-gas storage include Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp (NYSE: SE, http://www.spectraenergy.com/) .   SE, with a market cap of around $10 billion, is solidly outside out area of interest, but its shares are selling for $15.60,  around half the 52-week high of $29.18.  Another big company with strong underground storage capabilities is Dallas-based Atmos Energy Corp (NYSE: ATO, http://www.atmosenergy.com/) , whose shares are trading at $23.55 vs a 52-week high of $28.66 and a market cap of $2.1 billion, still a small cap in an industry of big guys.

Calgary-based TransCanada Corp (NYSE: TRP, http://www.transcanada.com/) is yet another candidate for those seeking companies with underground storage capabilities.  TRP shares are trading in the range of $28.78 vs a year-high of $40.25, and a solidly midcap market cap of over $17 billion.

There are some small companies that have their feet wedged in the door as well.  Have a look at Sirius Exploration (AIM: SXX or OTC Pink Sheets: SRUXY, http://www.siriusexploration.com/), a small UK-based diversified resources company with significant salt and potash deposits in North Dakota that has recently acquired 51% of Dakota Salts (http://www.dakotasalts.com/), which has the potential to be a freelance storer of natural gas or electricity (in the form of compressed air, which would be used to drive turbines when needed) in their own salt caverns that are local to the ND wind-energy industry (the largest in the US).  Certainly the smallest of these companies, Sirius may also be the dark horse for an investor looking to capitalize on way-underground real estate opportunities.  Sirius ADRs have only recently been listed on the Pink Sheets, and it is hard to get a current quote, but their common shares trade very high volumes on AIM in London.  There are 500 AIM shares, which are currently trading for about 1.8p (around US $0.03) in 1 US ADR share.

Even New-Age President Obama Backing Age-Old Coal Industry

One industry that’s received a boost by the advent of the “clean tech” movement is, perhaps surprisingly, a grand old American icon–the coal industry. As many have pointed out, the United States is to coal what Saudi Arabia is to oil–we have boatloads of the stuff buried throughout the American heartland. Coal backers, who include President Obama, are heralding new techniques that highlight “clean coal technology.”

One decades-old “clean coal” method in favor again converts coal to natural gas, or gasification. Privately-held Cambridge, MA-based GreatPoint Energy (http://www.greatpointenergy.com) calls its gasification technology hydromethanization and has a remedy for one of the major obstacles facing gasification–keeping the carbon dioxide produced in the process out of the atmosphere. GreatPoint plans to bury it, as outlined by CNET News (http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10216860-54.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20).

There are literally dozens of smallcaps involved in coal technology in one form or another. Five-year-old Henderson, NV-based Energy Quest Inc. (OTCBB: EQST.OB, http://syngasinternational.com), formerly Syngas International Corp., designs, builds and operates various gasification technologies for reforming coal and other “carbonaceous feed stocks.” One rub on Energy Quest, based on recent days anyway, is that it very, very rarely trades. You can buy a share for 20 cents. Denver-based Evergreen Energy Inc. (NYSEArca: EEE, http://evergreenenergy.com) doesn’t have that trading issue–it averages 1.4 million trades a day. The stock now sits at $1.02, off its high last June of $2.50. Formerly called KFx, Inc., Evergreen is a more traditional coal refining and production company but its K-Fuel process is designed to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from coal.

Los Angeles-based Rentech Inc. (Amex: RTK, http://www.rentechinc.com) provides technologies that use domestic resources to produce ultra-clean fuels. It has created a process, the Rentech Process, a derivative of the Fischer-Tropsch gasification process, that converts synthesis gas derived from coal and other products into liquid hydrocarbon products including clean diesel fuel, jet fuel and other fuel products. The Rentech Process is the basis of a joint development agreement with Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU, http://www.peabodyenergy.com), which calls itself the world’s largest private-sector coal company, to convert coal into ultra-clean transportation fuels. Rentech trades actively, about 560,000 shares daily, and is priced at 64 cents a share, off its 52-week high of $2.75 it reached last summer.

One other smallcap is a basic coal play, if you like coal companies mining in China. Seattle-based L&L International Holdings Inc. (OTCBB:LLFH.OB, http://www.lnlinternational.com) primarily operates a 1.5-square-kilometer mining operation in the Yunnan Province but it holds interests in an estimated 60 million tons of reserves. Now trading at 99 cents, it was as high as $2.45 earlier this year.

Movie Studio Goes Green? Green Monsters, Sure — But Green Cars? U Betcha!

Well, they say that as California goes, so goes the nation, at least when it comes to hula hoops, music & hair styles, food fads — and m-o-v-i-e-s.   Foreign films are great, but Hollywood films own kids all over the world.  And surprise, kids grow up to be adults.

Now Universal Studios has announced that its fleet of 300 trams will go entirely green (for green, read “electric”).  Of course, that meant an announcement made by Universal’s greenie meanie, Shrek.  For a full story on Universal’s conversion, see Wired (http://blog.wired.com/cars/2009/01/cruise-car-sola.html).   Universal’s own website is http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/

Universal Studios EV (and friends)

Universal Studios EV (and friends)

But seriously folks . . . . Sarasota, FL-based Cruise Car Inc(http://www.cruisecarinc.com/) has a fairly full line of breezy EVs for you to choose from to take the kids to ballet class — and a line of silent, non-gas-guzzling, zero-emission trams that will soon be people-moving at the largest amusement park in Los Angeles (Disneyland is in Anaheim).  We say KUDOS to Universal Studios.  If that sounds like a segue, that’s because the vehicles themselves are called Kudos. 

The Cruise Car Kudo (http://www.cruisecarinc.com/product-kudo.htm) comes in a variety of configurations that would satisfy any sunbelt neighborhood need.  There is even a solar option, with solar cells all over the parabolic curve of the roofline.   And the piece de resistence is that the admittedly golf-cart-like vehicles are perfect for your recessionary dollars.  From under $4,000 for a standard battery-powered golf-cart-type car, you can upgrade to an 11-passenger people mover for under $15,000.  Cruise Car is not publicly traded, but it is creating a track that better-known vehicle manufacturers may well want to motor along soon.

Solar Kudo from CruiseCar
Solar Kudo from CruiseCar

They may not be for everyone, but there is no reason that moms in exurbia can’t ferry their offspring to lessons and schools in these totally carbon-free jitneys.  And kids will think they are way cool, anyway. 

In case you are interested, you can find a dealer near you by calling Cruise Car Inc at (941) 929-1630.  Take a driver with you, and if you can’t find a driver, take a putter.  Yuck, yuck.