$1 bil­lion clean en­ergy fund

Gates, other big names want to re­duce green­house gases, lower prices

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By David Keonig

dal­las» Some big names with big money say they plan to put more than $1 bil­lion into de­vel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies that will re­duce green­house-gas emis­sions and lower the price of en­ergy.

Bill Gates said the fund plans to make its first in­vest­ments next year and run for 20 years. A year ago, the co-founder of Mi­crosoft Corp. started the Break­through En­ergy Coali­tion, whose mem­bers in­clude Mark Zucker­berg, Ge­orge Soros and Richard Bran­son, with a com­mit­ment to in­vest in new types of en­ergy.

Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment comes less than a week af­ter Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump an­nounced he will nom­i­nate the at­tor­ney gen­eral of Ok­la­homa, a cli­mate-change skep­tic, to lead the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

The fund, how­ever, was in the works long be­fore the elec­tion. It is the in­vest­ing ven­ture of a coali­tion formed in Novem­ber 2015.

Gates is the chair­man of a group of 20 in­vestors who call their fund Break­through En­ergy Ven­tures. They want to speed in­no­va­tion in the $6 tril­lion en­ergy mar­ket. At the top of the in­vestors’ list of cri­te­ria: nur­ture tech­nolo­gies with the po­ten­tial to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions by at least a half gi­ga­ton.

Gates said the fund plans to hire staff and make ini­tial in­vest­ments next year. The fund iden­ti­fied sev­eral ar­eas for in­vest­ment, and Gates high­lighted an even more-tar­geted ap­proach aimed at help­ing star­tups that can re­duce emis­sions from elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, trans­porta­tion, and in­dus­trial pro­cesses in steel-mak­ing, ce­ment pro­duc­tion and agri­cul­ture.

“This fund is to get things at an early stage, so we’re will­ing to take high risk,” Gates said in an in­ter­view.

Given the net worth of the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved, Gates ac­knowl­edged that $1 bil­lion might not seem like an over­whelm­ing com­mit­ment.

“When you meet these guys, they won’t have sold one of their cars. There is no deep sac­ri­fice in­volved here,” Gates said. He left open the pos­si­bil­ity that the pool of money could grow, ei­ther from his in­vestors or part­ners such as cor­po­ra­tions and uni­ver­si­ties.

The ini­tial $1 bil­lion sum, he said, is still much big­ger than any previous clean-en­ergy fund and is enough to sig­nal the in­vestors’ se­ri­ous­ness.

Gates has said that the in­vest­ments he makes won’t mat­ter as much as the choices that gov­ern­ments make. He be­lieves there is broad sup­port in Washington for en­ergy re­search and de­vel­op­ment. But, he added, “it’s hard to say” whether clean en­ergy con­tin­ues to get gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives or what en­ergy poli­cies a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion might pur­sue.

“I had a phone call with Trump” a cou­ple weeks ago, Gates said. “It wasn’t some su­per-long call. I talked a lit­tle bit about the in­no­va­tion in var­i­ous spa­ces that got me ex­cited. He seemed to think in­no­va­tion might be a fruit­ful area and said that we should talk more. At some point we’ll get into some depth.”

Gates said he is ab­so­lutely con­vinced that goals for re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions will be met.

“If you told me there was no in­no­va­tion and not the kind of pri­vate, risk-tak­ing cap­i­tal we’ve got here, then I would be very pes­simistic be­cause year af­ter year the prob­lem would get worse,” he said. “I see the work go­ing on … we are go­ing to sur­prise peo­ple with the kind of in­no­va­tion that will come out of the Break­through En­ergy Ven­tures in­vest­ment pool.”

Sep­a­rately, a re­port Mon­day sug­gested that a grow­ing num­ber of in­vestors are con­sid­er­ing dump­ing fos­sil-fuel stocks.

Ara­bella Ad­vi­sors said in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­ual in­vestors with more than $5 tril­lion in as­sets are pledg­ing to di­vest some of their hold­ings, dou­ble the amount of 15 months ago.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists pointed to the re­port as ev­i­dence that the no­tion of di­vest­ing oil and coal hold­ings has spread from a few col­leges to main­stream in­vestors such as in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and pen­sion funds.

Bill Gates an­nounced on Mon­day an in­vest­ment fund that will sup­port emerg­ing en­ergy tech­nolo­gies with the goal of re­duc­ing green­house-gas emis­sions. Kamil Zi­h­nioglu, Associated Press file

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