Times have changed since the Wall Street Journal held its first “ECO:nomics—Creating Environmental Capital” conference at the super-swanky Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara. I was there in 2008 (but, alas, stayed at the Best Western in downtown Santa Barbara) when several hundred investors and corporate CEOs listened to leading crony capitalists, including Jeff Immelt of GE, James Rogers of Duke Energy, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical, and John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers (where Al Gore was also a partner), smugly explain how they were going to strike it rich off the backs of consumers and taxpayers with green energy subsidies and mandates, federal loan guarantees, and the higher energy prices that would make renewable energy competitive with coal, oil, and natural gas once cap-and-trade was enacted.
This year’s sixth annual conference, which I didn’t attend, was also held at the Bacara Resort, but the mood was apparently different. Yesterday, the Journal ran a six-page supplement that summarized the conference’s highlights. The lead article by John Bussey was headlined: “Green Investing: So Much Promise, So Little Return: At The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference, the talk was about all the innovations taking place in renewable energy—and about all the investors who are losing interest.”
Bussey writes: “Given all the interest in protecting the environment from mankind’s rapid advance, you’d think this might be the best time ever to invest in renewable energy and the Next Big Green Thing. Guess again. Large parts of green-tech investment look like the torched and salted fields left behind by Roman conquerors: barren, lifeless—and bereft of a return on capital. Put another way: In some areas, if you aren’t already investor road kill, you’re likely the hedgehog in the headlights about to join your maker.”
On page two, an article on a talk by John Dears, chief investment officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (or Calpers), reveals that their “fund devoted to clean energy and technology which started in 2007 with $460 million has an annualized return of minus 9.7% to date.” Dears is quoted as telling the conference: “We have almost $900 million in investment expressly aimed at clean tech. We’re all familiar with the J-curve in private equity. Well, for Calpers, clean-tech investing has got an L-curve for “lose.” Our experience is that this has been a noble way to lose money.”
Yes, con artists gaming the system to raise energy prices, impoverish consumers, destroy jobs, and fleece taxpayers can still take comfort that theirs is “a noble way to lose money.” Long may it remain so. The entire 2013 ECO:nomics program may be found here. Read it and gloat now—it may be the last one.
Editor’s note: For more on CalPERS history of gross financial mismanagement, see this excellent post by my colleague Ivan Osorio.