Cleantech companies and investors stand to make big gains as a result of President Barack Obama’s push for a new energy economy — but they need swift government action in order to deliver. That’s the conclusion, at least, of a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on cleantech’s role in the national recovery agenda.
Last night in his address to Congress, Obama promised to move “swiftly and aggressively” to end the credit crunch — a major obstacle for wind and solar projects — and repeated his goal of doubling the country’s clean energy output within three years. (You can read and watch the address on the White House blog.) Energy Secretary Steven Chu has also revealed a sense of urgency, pledging recently to disburse 70 percent of the DOE’s stimulus share by the end of 2010. In today’s report, PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PWC, analysts note an even tighter timeframe, identifying mid-2009 as a key benchmark for clean energy:
Urgency surrounds numerous cleantech companies, which saw a drying-up of tax equity-structured financing in 2008 and stalled new and expansion projects in solar, wind and biofuels. Swift disbursement of stimulus plan investment for such project financing—ideally, in the first half of 2009—could help avert a raft of potential bankruptcies or crippling retrenchments through 2009.
Despite the ticking clock, PWC strikes a largely optimistic tone in today’s report, noting that “there are always opportunities for companies with the next big ideas.” Furthermore, if short-term efforts to ease the credit squeeze succeed, then cleantech developers, investors and adopters (e.g. companies that cut costs through energy efficiency) will likely find strategic opportunities as federal legislation replaces state-by-state energy policies in 2009. This second phase, marked by the creation of “a sturdier framework for long-term investment,” could arrive as early as this summer.
PWC notes that key elements of that framework might include a federal renewable portfolio standard, a national auto emission standard, and the further extension of tax breaks for wind and other clean energy technologies. Although Obama and some Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a carbon cap and trade system this year, PWC expects debate over the cost to electricity consumers in the midst of a recession to stall this kind of legislation beyond 2009.