Clean energy gathers momentum as big business

solar panels

Photo by Living Off Grid

By Len Lazarick

Judging from the number of financiers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and corporate managers at this week’s Maryland Clean Energy Summit, the renewable energy business and companies that reduce use of carbon fuels are becoming larger and more profitable.

Bill Van Hoene, senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Exelon Corp., which recently purchased Constellation Energy, made this growing importance clear. He told an awards lunch his corporation sponsored that Exelon had proved that a commitment to clean energy is “not just good environmental policy, but good business.”

“We have one of the industry’s cleanest energy portfolios,” said Van Hoene, adding that Exelon’s portfolio is 55% nuclear power plants that provide “clean energy without a drop of air pollution.” Another 25% of Exelon’s holdings use natural gas and 9% are renewable, including hydroelectric power.


Exelon committed to clean energy

“Our commitment to clean energy has never been stronger,” Van Hoene said, and he sees the company “helping put Maryland in the forefront of energy transition.”

Some of the company’s commitment was strengthened by negotiations with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his staff that placed a number of conditions on Exelon’s $7.9 billion merger with Constellation, parent company of BGE. The purchase made Exelon the largest competitive power generator in the United States, with operations in 47 states and Canada. Exelon was formed in 2000 with the merger of Philadelphia and Chicago utilities.

One condition of the Constellation sale was a pledge from Exelon to put $30 million into an off-shore wind power development fund, an O’Malley priority.

Held at the BWI Marriott, this was third annual summit put on by the Maryland Clean Energy Center, a quasi-public corporation. It attracted 335 people, “a good mix” of executives, “thought leaders” and financiers, said Kathy Magruder, executive director of the center.

Putting ideas and funding together

“It’s really indicative of the diversity of the energy sector,” Magruder said, adding that  the center tries to foster relationships between people with ideas and people with money to fund them.

“We try to match them with people who are interested in investing,” she said.
“Our goal is to help people create jobs in the clean energy sector.”

Formed in 2008 with a board appointed by the governor, the Maryland Clean Energy Center has bonding authority to finance projects but is not taxpayer supported, Magruder said.

The full array of the clean energy sector was represented at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. It included not just solar and wind, but natural gas, conservation, geothermal and biomass – anything that can be used to create energy. “Nobody is looking at it that it’s waste anymore,” Magruder said.

That includes companies like Catonsville-based Fiberight that seeks to convert food waste into usable fuel rather than just burning the waste to create electricity. Fiberight was one of the companies honored at the luncheon.

Financing consumer adoption

Much of the clean energy business is mandated by government standards, and is still dependent on government subsidies through tax credits and special financing.

But one of the panels explored “strategies for financing consumer adoption.” Ideas included Clean Energy Victory Bonds, modeled on the small denomination World War II bonds sold to support the war effort. Another was the creation of green banks to finance clean infrastructure.

Lou Hutchinson, vice president for public sector and energy efficiency sales at Constellation, described his unit’s approach to help federal agencies both save money and use less power, making energy conservation a budget solution for such agencies as the U.S. State Department.

Del. Sally Jameson, D-Charles, received an award for her successful sponsorship of two bills this year. One raised the amount of solar energy that must be purchased by utilities for their renewable energy portfolio. The other, which had 21 co-sponsors, more than half of them Republican, authorizes renewable energy tax credits for installation of residential geothermal cooling and heating systems. Jameson said it was “the first bill of its type in the nation.”