Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Britain’s green rich list

From the Times of London:

There’s gold in those wind turbines. We highlight the top eco-tycoons, as rated by the compiler of our Rich List

The Copenhagen summit may have put the damper on global plans to tackle climate change — but British entrepreneurs are charging ahead regardless.

Research by Philip Beresford, author of The Sunday Times Rich List, has unveiled 20 British business people who have already made millions from going green. They range from Dale Vince, the New Age traveller turned wind-power tycoon, to the Cottingham family, which has quietly built up a fortune from insulating houses and installing energy-efficient heating. In drawing up the list, we have excluded businessmen like Sir Richard Branson, who have added environmental interests to their businesses.

Compared with other European countries, in particular Germany and Spain, Britain has been sparing with its subsidies for renewable energy and slow to push through big infrastructure projects in the face of local opposition.

All that might be about to change. After the fudge at Copenhagen, where world leaders failed to adopt firm targets to cut carbon-dioxide emissions, Britain is one of the few developed countries with a legally binding target on greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Change Act 2008 says the UK must cut carbondioxide output 34% by 2020, a goal that should generate even more opportunities for our green millionaires.

1: DALE VINCE Ecotricity £85m

Dale Vince was a grammar school pupil in Great Yarmouth but realised he did not want a conventional career. He got his first taste of the hippie way of life at music festivals: “I’d seen people living in old buses and knew there was an alternative.”

So at 19 Vince decided to become a New Age traveller. His first home was an old ambulance. Eventually, he was living in a truck that he had converted into a home and he had an entire alternative lifestyle.

“I had a little wind turbine to charge old batteries and even run a laptop computer ,” he said. Vince wanted more than to lead a lowimpact lifestyle, though, so he drove to Cornwall to see Britain’s first wind farm. It gave him the dream of building a wind turbine on the hill where he lived in Gloucestershire.

It took five years of challenges and appeals before he managed to get planning permission. The next hurdle Vince faced was selling the power. The energy sector had not been deregulated and the price he was offered to supply the national grid was lower than he wanted. Undaunted, he came up with a bold solution. “The only way to make the venture work was to cut out the middleman and reach end-users directly. At that time the electricity industry was just liberalising and it was possible to get a supplier licence.”

The company he created, Ecotricity, has grown rapidly and now incorporates a wind-development arm, which deals with the turbines, and a retail arm, which delivers the energy to customers. In 2007 alone Ecotricity invested £25m in wind energy. In 2007-8 it made a £1.9m profit on £28m sales. It has £37.8m net assets and has been valued at more than £100m. Cautiously, in this difficult climate, we value Vince, 48, at £85m.

2: ANDREW OWENS and ALEX LEWIS Greenergy £50m

Andrew Owens formerly an oil trader, invested £300,000 in 1992 to set up Greenergy to supply what was, at the time, a new concept: low-sulphur petrol. As the oil giants muscled in on his niche, the Welshman, who had worked for Esso and Petrotrade, decided the company needed to focus on carbon itself.

Greenergy now makes car fuel from oilseed rape. By buying oil from the Continent, South America, Russia and Africa and mixing low–carbon versions for supermarket pumps, it has grown with its customers, the largest of which is Tesco. In 2007-8, Greenergy made £21.1m profit on £1.7 billion sales.

Owens, 47, and his wife Alex Lewis, 46, a former lobbyist who is the company’s communications chief, have a 33.1% stake worth perhaps £50m....MORE