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Alternative Energy Investments

The following is an excerpt from the book Black Gold by George Orwel Published by Wiley; June 2006;$27.95US/$35.99CAN; 0-471-79268-3 Copyright © 2006 George Orwel The oil market is not the only one looking up. Alternative fuel stocks are also attracting many investors. Because oil and gas are expensive, Americans are looking for cheaper nonfossil fuel and that demand is boosting the alternative fuel stocks as well. This is especially good for anyone who cares for the environment -- the greens.

If you consider yourself an environmentalist or a preservationist, this is perfect for you, for you are now able to support efforts to preserve the environment while at the same time profiting from those efforts. It's a win-win situation. Consider this: Pacific Ethanol Inc., a small ethanol-producing company started in 2003 by Bill Jones, the former secretary of state for the state of California, has trebled its stock price on NASDAQ to about $30 a share within a year of going public in March of 2005. Like many other similar renewable fuel start-ups, millions of dollars in private equity money are being thrown at Pacific Ethanol like the world is coming to an end.

Billionaire Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, is one of those investing in renewable fuel stocks. Gates' investment company, Cascade Investment, has agreed to pump $84 million in Pacific Ethanol. The U. government has recognized alternative fuel as the fuel for the future and has included a number of tax incentives in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the energy law signed in the summer of 2005, to spur growth in the alternative fuel sector. If you haven't already, you should give alternative stocks a try as it will make you feel morally stronger. It's been nearly three decades since efforts to promote alternative fuel floundered after the 1973 oil crisis, but it's making a comeback. Still, alternative fuel remains a small industry, with small cap companies dominating. Since 2005, 15 of the 36 companies in the WilderHill Clean Energy index have made huge profits. That includes hydroelectric power and wind energy, solar energy, and fuel cells.

Some of the most successful companies in the renewable fuel sector are huge conglomerates, like General Electric and Germany's Siemens, and also big oil companies, like BP, that are hedging their bets. Investing in these companies offers a chance to own a clean energy stock. Here's some information about GE worth knowing: It made close to $2 billion in sales from production of wind-powered turbines in 2005, treble what it made from that business unit in 2002. However, that's only 1 percent of GE's revenues. There's a lot of hope that alternative fuel technologies developed by some of the smaller companies will become commercially viable and help support the sector. As a result, stocks for these companies are expected to soar. WilderHill Clean Energy Index gained 26 percent in the past 12 months alone, compared with 50 percent for oil. That's not bad, considering this is not an established sector in the United States. Moreover, since continued oil supply is uncertain, a lot more consumers are going to turn to coal, which is abundantly available in the United States, China, and India. Coal used to be frowned upon because of its dirt, but technology has improved enough to make it just as clean as other fuels.

Shrewd investors could buy shares in U. coal producers, including the two biggest, Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc., both based in St. Louis, Missouri. Coal companies have profited from the current oil boom. Investing in coal doesn't mean that Big Oil isn't safe anymore. It only means that you are on much firmer ground when you have a diversified portfolio. If you look at both types of stocks, the difference isn't large.

Exxon Mobil, for instance, returned 36 percent to its shareholders in market appreciation and dividends in 2005 and BP returned 21 percent. Peabody Energy stockholders, meanwhile, did far better in the same time period. They more than doubled their money, and Peabody shares have risen more than three and a half times since the company's initial public offering in 2001. Arch Coal stock returned 65 percent in 2005 as well. Coal producers have benefited from increased demand from power plants and steelmakers in the United States, China, and India. Massey Energy Co. of Richmond, Virginia, for instance, said its average selling price for coal used in steel-making jumped 38 percent in 2005. Consol Energy, Inc. of Pittsburgh, the third largest U.


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