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Investors Could Drive Real Fossil Fuel Investment Retreat

[fa icon="calendar'] May 13, 2014 9:00:05 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The sustainable investing community has a saying that their greatest achievement will be Wall Streetto put themselves out of business. The fossil fuel divestment movement could say the same: when fossil fuel companies stop their relentless drilling and all assets currently held in reserves are abandoned, drivers of the movement will be looking for work.

The way things are going with fossil fuel companies, we might be able to halt the divestment movement sooner than we think.

Last week’s news seemed to show the market moving towards an acceptance of climate change’s negative impact on corporate earnings — and a rejection of fossil fuel investments on purely financial terms.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration’s National Climate Assessment, was reported in the Wall Street Journal under the headline “Climate Change Is Harming US Economy, Report Says.” The story does not question the report or offer conflicting scientific opinions, but points specifically to greenhouse gases from energy production as the cause:

The congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment…says…that it isn't too late to implement policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, and calls on governments at all levels to find ways to lower carbon emissions, particularly from energy production.

That’s from The Journal, probably the most fiercely pro-business publication around.

But even more astonishing is the story in Forbes “Fossil Fuel-Free Index Will Help Investors Manage Climate Risks.” While the article says the fund, the FTSE Developed ex-Fossil Fuels Index Series, is aimed mainly at universities and public institutions, it does acknowledge —

“(The) concept of carbon stranded assets pioneered by the Carbon Tracker initiative contends that fossil fuel companies are overvalued by stock markets because their valuations include assets that cannot be exploited if we are to avoid runaway climate change. …Carbon Tracker sheds further light on the risks, (in its) report… Carbon Supply Cost Curves. Evaluating Financial Risk To Oil Capital Expenditures, setting out the assets most likely to be stranded and the companies best placed to adapt to a low carbon future.”

That Report calls out oil sands, Arctic and deepwater exploration as terrible investments.

Carbon Tracker’s website describes magical thinking in the fossil fuel industry: “Exxon saying there is no risk does not constitute prudent management of shareholder funds – it’s like King Canute assuming he can hold back the tide, but investors can see that a shift in energy is already coming in.”

That’s language you’d expect from activists. But Forbes, that bastion of conservatism, joins in the bashing in choosing to quote analyst Mark Lewis of Europe’s leading broker Kepler Cheuvreux: “The oil industry’s increasingly unsustainable dynamics – as manifested, for example, by ongoing capex (capital expenditure) reductions amid record-high oil prices – mean that stranded-asset risk exists even under business-as-usual conditions: high oil prices will encourage the shift away from oil towards renewables (whose costs are falling) while also incentivising (sic) greater energy efficiency.”

Forbes notes that with BlackRock — the world’s largest asset manager — participating in the fund, the anti-fossil fuel movement has gone mainstream.

Mainstream? From a reporter at Forbes, whose self-reported audience statistics place its readers at higher levels of wealth and power than any other business publication, is calling the FTS ex-Fossil Fuel Index a welcome first step in making the idea of a world without fossil fuels a mainstream notion?

Now that’s progress.

Of course there is still enormous weight on the other side of the argument. Fossil fuel companies recognize the threat to their business in the massive shifts in capital that are coming and are determined to get every last bit out of the ground ASAP. Even here in the hyper-environmental Pacific Northwest, the Black Diamond coal mine is reopening after 15 years and proposed coal ports refuse to die.

But there is growing evidence that fossil fuels are just a dumb investment. As stated in a recent report by HIP Investor, “Since 2011, the global energy sector has diverged from the S&P 500 for the first time in a decade, and dramatically lagged the S&P 500. The Coal Index (KOL) is down 28% since late 2011, and the Oil & Gas Index (BGR) is down 8% as well.”

I see the day coming when investors who hold fossil fuel stocks will be derided for poor money management. The smart money? Managers who bought renewable energy stocks early.

Image courtesy of  thetaxhaven via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 102 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 
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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in BlackRock, Carbon Tracker, CSR, divestment movement, Exxon, fossil fuel companies, FTSE Developed ex-Fossil Fuels Index Series, Kepler Cheuvreux, Mark Lewis, sustainable investing, Uncategorized, sustainability, Black Diamond coal mine, Carol Pierson Holding, CSRHub, National Climate Assessment, renewable energy, Wall Street Journal

Could the Wind Industry End Fossil Fuel Subsidies?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 22, 2013 9:28:48 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

After a year where wind producers sat on their hands, waiting until Congress decided whether the wind tax credits would be extended, it finally happened: on December 31, as part of the fiscal cliff deal, Congress extended the production tax credit (PTC) for wind and other renewables through the end of 2013.

But one year is not enough time to get a wind production facility up and running. There are plenty of wind operations — some 100 pre-operational wind projects in the Northwest alone — that are far enough through planning stages to break ground in time to qualify. But any longer-term projects are stalled because of the lack of predictability for tax credits. Wall Street can’t invest with that much uncertainty. Even operating concerns cut back. In fact, this year’s uncertainty caused turbine manufacturers including Siemens and Vestas to cut back in the middle of last year.

What galls Energy Policy Expert Fred Hewitt is that energy subsidies have been a fixture of American policy since the dawn of the fossil fuel era, and yet lawmakers refuse to make subsides for wind anywhere near permanent. Some eighty years ago, special treatment in the tax, accounting and business formation codes, from special depreciation and Federal resource leasing rules, was put in place to support building the electric power system. Similar subsidies were given to the nuclear industry fifty years ago in the form of legal shielding in case of accident. These special incentives still exist today.

And yet the renewable energy industry has to apply every one or two or five years to have their incentives renewed.

Wind has its negative impacts of course. Wind patterns are disturbed. Loud whirring interrupts the bucolic quiet. Birds are decimated if they fly into a turbine. All energy sources have their impacts.  Only renewables are free from carbon emissions.

Fossil fuel lobbyists argue that wind is not reliable and has yet to prove its financial viability. But wind is no longer an energy source that has to prove itself. It’s a bonafide industry, drawing in investments of $15.5 billion a year with 500 companies currently competing in the US alone. Small wind turbines are being installed in factory locations to protect manufacturers from energy shortages and price fluctuations. And because utilities have requirements to source additional energy from emission-free sources, future demand is assured. See 90 of these companies’ CSR ratings on CSRHub.

Still, how will this new industry go up against the might of its competitors, fossil fuel companies determined to slow its progress?

Despite its drawbacks, the PTC extension is not all doom. The fact that it passed at all amidst the chaos of the fiscal cliff is remarkable. While wind champions are generally pro-environmental Democrats, support was bi-partisan. Central state Republicans like members of the Red State Renewable Alliance supported the measure on behalf of rural constituencies for whom wind development is an economic Godsend. As Hewitt puts it, “This is an important political signal.”

Still, the PTC will continue to be problem until it is extended for multiple years. The industry has come up with a compromise: through the American Wind Energy Association, the industry has offered a voluntary proposal to Congress to phase out Production Tax Credits over six years. Why six years? Because that’s how long it will take for wind to establish a stable base market in the U.S. and to invest in new innovations such as off-shore wind power.

Hewitt describes the kicker: they want all energy industries to do the same, phasing out special treatment of any kind. Over the same six years.

Many agree. The Environmental Defense Fund is quietly stirring support for getting all energy industry players agree to phase out subsidies, a goal that Obama touted in his State of the Union Address and which the G20 agreed to do for fossil fuels at their meeting last September.

How fitting that the wind industry, the youngest player and the one that really needs the subsidies, is the first to volunteer to give them up. Could it be that renewables are not only the most conservative environmentally but fiscally too? You have to love the irony.

[csrhubwidget company="Vestas-Wind-Systems" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]

Photo is courtesy of vauvau via Flickr CC.

Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 6,700 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.



CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on over 6,700 companies from 135 industries in 82 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 200 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in American Wind Energy Association, corporate social responsibility, fossil fuel, Fred Hewitt, nuclear, Uncategorized, wind, PTC, Carol Pierson Holding, CSRHub, renewable energy

Greenwashing in the Oil Industry? Say It's Not True . . .

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 14, 2011 3:31:13 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

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By Carol Pierson Holding

In the past two weeks, there has been a lot of press about Chevron’s announcement that that it will sell all four of its US coal mines by the end of the year. The company says it is getting out of coal because the technology for converting coal to liquid won’t be available for another 10-15 years, and that even then technology might not be viable, and that the company will focus on “other operations.” In other words, it’s purely a business decision.

Chevron cites concern about its profits, which is a good thing, right? And its profits have been terrific, with 5-year returns over double those of its leading competitors. But what puzzled me is that I could not find a single story that even mentioned how Chevron’s coal mine sale supports its successful pro-environment platform.

After all, Chevron has committed to renewables and spent millions advertising this fact.  And even though Chevron’s business is only 13% renewables now, the company bravely re-branded itself several years ago with the aspirational tag “The Power of Human Energy: Finding Newer, Cleaner Ways to Power the Earth.” And its CSR ratings are among the highest in its industry, according to CSRHub.

So, thinking the media had simply left out the environmental piece, I went to Chevron’s web site to find its official press release about its decision to exit coal. To my surprise, there was none. Nothing at all.  Instead, I found two other remarkable tidbits. First, Chevron reported stunning profits for this quarter of $5.3 billion, an increase of 70% over last year’s Q4. The company credits higher prices for crude, which we knew. We all notice the higher prices at the pump. So how is it investing these profits and those it will make selling coal mines?

The second notable press release was about its $4 billion investment in another deep water drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico. The gist (which I gleaned from Oil and Gas Financial Journal, as this press release had been taken down since the first time I looked) is that Chevron’s unfortunately named Big Foot deep water drilling project, its sixth facility in the Gulf, will be located approximately 225 miles south of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Now I have to admit: I am truly a naif in the oil and gas extraction industry. But this seems a bit like a shell game to me, albeit a sophisticated one.

Rather than toot it’s own horn for getting out of the dirtiest of its businesses, coal, Chevron exits quietly, while in an equally soft voice, the company invests $4 billion in deep water drilling off the coast of New Orleans, site of a deep water oil spill that has been called the largest environmental disaster in US history. In the meantime, Chevron crows to the public not about its exit from coal but about its focus on renewables.

 And this is one of the best of the big oil lot?


Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Iguanasan.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 2 Comments posted in Big Food deep water drilling, corporate social responsibility, CSR, CSRHUB opinion, ESG, New Orleans, Louisiana, sustainability, oil, Carol Pierson Holding, Chevron, coal, coal mine, CSRHub, renewable energy, SRI

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