Thursday, October 22, 2009

GE, Cleantech and Your Tax Dollars

Marc Gunther is pretty green and has been for as long as I can remember. He's also a good analytical thinker.
Although he doesn't mention it, I find it astounding that GE's CEO Jeff Immelt is an advisor to President Obama at the same time his company has $51 Billion of a subsidiary's debt guaranteed by the FDIC.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
From GreenBiz via Reuters:
Let me state my bias upfront: I’m am admirer of GE and its chief executive, Jeff Immelt, and the company’s ecomagination initiative.

GE and Walmart are, as I have written, the most influential companies in America, and it’s great that they are serious about becoming more sustainable, and working with their customers and suppliers to do so as well.

But I can’t help but be struck by the extent to which GE’s clean energy businesses depend on federal and state tax and regulatory policy, along with grants and loans from the government.

Wind energy, solar energy, nuclear power, cleaner coal, smart grid initiatives, energy efficient appliances, compact fluorescent light bulbs -- all of these either benefit from current policy, get stimulus money or Department of Energy grants, stand to benefit if the climate-change legislation strongly supported by GE is enacted into law, or all of the above.

This is fairly obvious, admittedly, to anyone paying attention to the energy and climate debate, but it was brought home to me vividly last week, at a GE Ecomagination Forum that focused on GE Capital’s venture investments in cleantech startups.

You can read more about GE’s venture business a column I wrote for, called GE Brings Good Things to Startups, and in an interview and podcast with Kevin Skillern, the managing director of venture capital for GE Energy Financial Services, which are available at

Since 2006, GE’s venture fund has smartly invested about $160 million in 20 startups in such businesses as wind and solar power, batteries, energy efficiency, smart grid and fossil fuels.

Of GE’s portfolio companies, the star performer and recipient of GE’s biggest investment -- about $69 million -- is a company called A123 Systems that makes advanced lithium ion batteries and appears to have a very promising future.

A123 makes batteries for the transportation, utility and consumer markets, for such customers as Daimler, Chrysler, Volvo, Better Place/Renault, Black & Decker, AES and Procter & Gamble’s Duracell unit. Investors alongside GE, which is A123’s biggest shareholder, include Sequioa Capital, ConocoPhillips, AES, Motorola and P&G. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin drive electric cars powered by A123 batteries, as does Tom Hanks. Not a bad list of endorsements.

Here’s the thing, though. A123 has been given more than $600 million in grants, loans or tax credits by the federal and state government to build a new plant in Michigan. They include a $249 million grant from the DOE’s Electric Drive Vehicle Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative, another $100 million in refundable tax credits from the state, and $27.5 million more from the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium. Separately, Nissan, an A123 customers, got a $1.6 billion loan to retool a factory to make electric cars and batteries. The climate bill will provide another boost to electric cars....MORE

I have come to think of the GE approach as no different from Italy in the '20's and '30's:
"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power. "
-B. Mussolini via BrainyQuote