Gore Envy? Not So Fast Joe

So was Biden really trying to outdo Al Gore with his debate performance?  Perhaps Biden, a lifelong political hack, has Gore envy in more ways than one, and is already practicing investment hedging, looking past a prospective election loss to a post-VP career as a crony capitalist.

It was a strange coincidence that the Washington Post chose this week to run a story about how Al Gore is thriving as a green energy investor:

Today, several of those clean tech firms are thriving, including a solar energy start-up and a Spanish utility company that has dotted rural America with hundreds of wind turbines.

Al Gore is thriving, too.

The man who was within sight of the presidency 12 years ago has transformed himself, becoming perhaps the world’s most renowned crusader on climate change and a highly successful green-tech investor.  Just before leaving public office in 2001, Gore reported assets of less than $2 million; today, his wealth is estimated at $100 million.

But there’s this one little inconvenient detail a little lower down in the story:

Fourteen green-tech firms in which Gore invested received or directly benefited from more than $2.5 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks, part of President Obama’s historic push to seed a U.S. renewable-energy industry with public money. . .

Gore’s investments coincided with the government’s largest investment in clean tech. A full 10 percent, estimated at $80 billion to $90 billion, of the 2009 stimulus package was devoted to clean energy. . . Several companies in Gore’s portfolio emerged as winners. Of the 11 companies he mentioned in his 2008 slide show, nine received or directly benefited from stimulus or clean energy funding.

That’s not just “seeding” green energy; that’s burying it in fertilizer and watering it nonstop.  Pretty easy to make money when you have the government backing you up.  Just ask Big Bird.

The Post also missed some of Gore’s big green misses.  For this, turn to Bill Gunderson of TheStreet.com, who has the skinny on one Gore investment the Post ignored:

Three years ago, First Solar seemed on its way: Interest in solar was at an all-time-high — as were subsidies for making, installing and using it. So America’s largest manufacturer of solar equipment seemed ready to cash in.

So did Generation Investment. According to SEC filings, Gore’s company bought 440,000 shares in late 2010 at about $130. By the first quarter of 2012, the value of First Solar — and just about every other solar manufacturer in America — had plummeted.

Generation Investment rode it all the way down, buying more and more shares as the price went lower and lower until finally it reached $25 in the first quarter of 2012. Generation Investment was holding 1.1 million shares worth about $28 million.

All this despite $3 billion in loan guarantees that kept many analysts talking about its great future. But the stock was always more popular with true believers in solar energy than with people who want to make money.

In the second quarter of this year, Gore et al. finally figured out what I have been saying to my clients, my listeners and my readers for two years: Alternative energy is a terrible investment and “sell everything under the sun.” That’s why I started shorting First Solar at $121 and kept shorting it all the way down to $33.


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