Hurricane Katrina just a breeze in the perfect storm

It’s amazing how a devastating event like a hurricane can focus attention on an already existent problem. Katrina, by knocking out oil refineries, rigs and pipelines on the Gulf Coast, has many investors freaking out about rising fossil fuel prices and the impact on the overall economy.

This morning I pick up the newspaper and read about executives in Alberta’s oil patch worried about $70-a-barrel oil. Admitting that it’s great for the top line, and for their stocks, they also acknowledge that rising operating expenses — i.e. higher fuel costs means it costs them more to retrieve and process the oil and natural gas — is negating many of the positives that investors have been fixated on. Think about how high natural gas prices are pummelling oil sand production.

And it’s not just oil companies feeling the pain. Any company that relies on fossil fuels to power their operations — airlines, manufacturers, trucking companies, taxi companies — are entering panic mode. Methanex, the world’s top maker of methanol, says it’s closing one of its B.C. plants because of high natural gas prices.

I read another story today about General Motors, and how the company is admitting that sales of large SUVs have peaked and that, in all likelihood, it’s all downhill from here as higher prices at the pumps discourage people from buying gas-guzzlers. Is this a surprise?

Meanwhile, homeowners are getting squeezed on many fronts. On top of the rising cost of driving a car, natural gas and electricity prices are skyrocketing. Combine that with rising health concerns of using dirty fossil fuels and you’ve got the perfect storm. For example, a survey released today from IBM’s healthcare services unit found that 4 out of 10 Canadians have felt a health impact from air pollution.

The survey found 97 per cent of Canadians were willing to reduce the amount of air pollution or emissions they create by conserving energy. Eighty-six per cent said they have tried to reduce the effects of pollution in their homes, 59 per cent have spoken to others about the problem and 29 per cent belonged to or donated to an environmental organization. Increased government spending on public transit was supported by 71 per cent of respondents, while 23 per cent were willing to support increased gasoline prices.

Hurricane Katrina is giving everybody a much-needed dose of reality.

What’s the impact on renewables and cleantech? Well, as hydro and natural gas bills rise every month, as filling up your SUV becomes more costly, as companies begin to cite rising energy costs as part of profit warnings in the coming quarters, and as more people begin to directly experience the effects of smog pollution on their health, the prospect for hybrid-electric vehicles, pure EVs, solar thermal and PV technologies, wind farms, geothermal systems, biodiesel, biomass and hydrogen fuel cells becomes that much better. That much more necessary.

Companies and homeowners will begin to look for ways to displace their need for natural gas, oil and gasoline, and this will continue to spur innovation from and interest in cleantech companies.

The reality is nothing new. The awareness is.

More on SunPower IPO and significance for ATS Solar Group

Not to harp on this issue, but I was speaking with my friend MacMurray Whale at Sprott Securities about the SunPower IPO and, after some back-of-napkin calculations here’s what he had to say about the potential valuation of ATS Automation’s solar group based on how much the SunPower offering is expected to raise.

I won’t go into the fine details, but Whale believes that SunPower’s market cap after its IPO would be somewhere close to $1 billion (U.S.), based the company’s plans to raise $115 million and its intention to reach 75 megawatts of solar PV manufacturing capacity. This would work out, he said, to about $15.40 per megawatt of capacity.

Given that ATS Automation’s solar group has 33 megawatts of capacity from its France-based Photowatt operation and 20 megawatts coming online with the launch of Spheral Solar — amounting to 53 megawatts total — Whale figures ATS’s solar group is worth roughly $960 million (Canadian).

What’s incredible is that this values the solar group alone at $16 per share of ATS, which today is trading as a consolidated operation at below $13 a share on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Even, as Whale points out, if you are very conservative and estimate a $6 (U.S.) IPO for SunPower, it would imply a $600 million plus market cap for the ATS solar group.

In a research brief, Whale concludes: “This analysis indicates that despite the impact of higher depreciation, amortization of pre-production expense and lower gross margin as SSP launches in this quarter, the (ATS) Solar Group is greatly undervalued relative to peers.”

Food for thought.

Reality TV that’s actually meaningful… really

There’s a new BBC program in the U.K. that I hope catches on in North America — or Canada, at least. It’s called “No Waste Like Home” and each show helps a certain wasteful family reduce their energy consumption and waste production. It’s kind of like Debbie Travis’ Facelift or one of those other fix-it-up, organize it, or dress-to-sell shows on Home and Garden Television. Why not have a show dedicated to reducing waste? I think it’s a great idea, particularly as jurisdictions like Ontario move toward smart meters and differential power pricing, and municipalities like Toronto require more aggressive recycling habits in the home, not to mention possible restrictions on regular garbage pickup.

I’m a firm believer that our rather wasteful consumer culture has created a psychological condition for the 21 century. I call this condition “consumption guilt,” and I think at some level it creates an anxiety in some people who don’t want to be wasteful but have no choice because of the way society is set up to make it so easy to consume but so hard to, well… not consume. I wonder what Freud would say?

Anyway, I’ll be the first to sign a petition to get a “No Waste Like Home” show in Canada. It’s a hell of a lot better than watching Tommy Lee go to college.

Reality TV that’s actually meaningful… really

There’s a new BBC program in the U.K. that I hope catches on in North America — or Canada, at least. It’s called “No Waste Like Home” and each show helps a certain wasteful family reduce their energy consumption and waste production. It’s kind of like Debbie Travis’ Facelift or one of those other fix-it-up, organize it, or dress-to-sell shows on Home and Garden Television. Why not have a show dedicated to reducing waste? I think it’s a great idea, particularly as jurisdictions like Ontario move toward smart meters and differential power pricing, and municipalities like Toronto require more aggressive recycling habits in the home, not to mention possible restrictions on regular garbage pickup.

I’m a firm believer that our rather wasteful consumer culture has created a psychological condition for the 21 century. I call this condition “consumption guilt,” and I think at some level it creates an anxiety in some people who don’t want to be wasteful but have no choice because of the way society is set up to make it so easy to consume but so hard to, well… not consume. I wonder what Freud would say?

Anyway, I’ll be the first to sign a petition to get a “No Waste Like Home” show in Canada. It’s a hell of a lot better than watching Tommy Lee go to college.