Investing to Support the Clean-Energy Revolution

While I’m definitely anti-capitalist, for the meantime, capitalism is the social form we have. So I am investigating the best ways to limit climate change within that system, while at the same time looking to overcome it.

One way to work within capitalism is in the directing of your money, both as a consumer and as an investor. Here are the results of my research into some “green” ways to invest.

Financing installation, not companies

I am focused on directly financing the rollout of existing clean energy technologies – primarily wind and solar – rather than financing R&D or buying stock in clean-energy companies. Since I still work full-time, any investment income is taxed at a high rate. But most of the investment instruments that finance the direct implementation of these technologies are income-generating assets (which makes sense). Therefore I am specifically looking for things that I can buy through my retirement accounts.

In any case, most of my investable money is in my retirement accounts (IRAs that were rolled over from 401k funds). I have them all at Vanguard, and it’s easy to set up a brokerage account. From there I can buy anything publicly traded.

YieldCos

The main type of investment I’ve invested in (of the money devoted to clean energy) is the YieldCo, a relatively new type of investment that provides a steady stream of income. The idea is that the YieldCo effectively owns income-generating assets like wind farms and solar installations and distributes most of the income as dividends. YieldCos buy these assets from developers; the developers can then take that capital and use it to build new wind farms and install more solar. Usually each YieldCo is closely tied to one developer, which does raise the potential for conflicts of interest.

I did some investigation into some of the available YieldCos. I picked a few for purity and yield (like meth). By yield of course I mean how much the dividends amount to as a percentage of the purchase price. By purity I mean how much of their assets are in clean energy. One in particular, NRG’s YieldCo, has a high percentage of dirty energy assets (natural gas power plants and even coal power plants) in order to have the tax equity to take full advantage of the federal Investment Tax Credit available for solar and wind. While I understand the rationale, I’d prefer my money to be used to fund as close to 100% clean energy as possible. And as you can see, it’s quite possible:

This graph is from an absolutely excellent overview (about a year old) at Forbes called Clean Energy Yield Cos: Growing Pains.

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My Comments on the USPTO Software Patent Roundtable

Note: I emailed these comments in response to the US Patent and Trademark Office’s “Listening Sessions” where they solicited opinions on how to fix the software patent system, which pretty much everyone agrees is broken.


I have several points to make about software patents, most of which come under the topic of “potential future topics” and many of which, I realize, the USPTO cannot act on without new law from Congress. I’m glad the USPTO is acknowledging that there are some real problems with software patents, but I think that they’re asking the wrong questions. They’re also asking the wrong people.

To summarize my bottom-line view on software patents, based in part on spending 15 years as a professional programmer and having worked at four startups: software should not be patentable at all. If we allow software patents, there are three things we can do to make them less damaging:

  1. reduce the duration to 4 or 5 years instead of 20 (which is a really long time in the software world),
  2. increase the bar so only truly innovative things like spreadsheets count, and
  3. actually require “reduction to practice” – the submitter must implement it, and release source code, as part of the patent.

Continue reading “My Comments on the USPTO Software Patent Roundtable”

Book Review: Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Capitalism book cover

At first glance, Conscious Capitalism looks like just another business book from an egotistical CEO. John Mackey has had great success running Whole Foods Market, and now he wants to share his learnings with the rest of the business world in self-serving, boldly self-assured, and dreadfully written prose. But his aim is higher than just giving business tips or recounting war stories – with co-author Raj Sisodia, he wants to revitalize the entire economic system and provide a “richer and more ethically compelling narrative” about capitalism. Their subtitle, without any trace of irony or humor, of course, is “Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business”.

The combination of the title and the subtitle gives it away. What we have here is a very contemporary collision of values: a New Age libertarian how-to. Eckhart Tolle meets Adam Smith – The Secret for the haves.

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Chris Hedges on Occupy and the End of Empire

Brace yourself! It’s three hours of Chris Hedges, but he pretty much lays it all out.

I wanted to highlight one part where he addresses a question from a viewer about white supremacy and white privilege, which he seems to have a very good handle on.

At about 1:32:25 in, @MelkiJRussell asks, “Can Chris talk about the issues a Black man might face saying the same thing he says to a white audience?” to which I think Hedges gave a great answer: Continue reading “Chris Hedges on Occupy and the End of Empire”

Book Review: Debt: The First 5000 Years (in-progress)

David Graeber’s Wikipedia entry starts with “David Rolfe Graeber is an American anthropologist and anarchist“. Already you know things are going to be interesting.

I first heard of this book and Graeber in connection to the Occupy Wall Street protests. Apparently he played some part in starting them. He also was involved in the anti-corporate globalization protests of the late 1990s. Then I heard a reference to this book from none other than a Financial Times reporter. Okay, then. If the business press is interested in reading a book on money and debt by an anarchist anthropologist, I’ll bite.

I loved the cover. It’s a very effective illusion – I really thought that the cashier had placed my receipt on the book itself.

The book’s size looks intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. About a quarter to a third of the book is endnotes, and the main text is very straight-forwardedly written, which is a pleasure. Graeber covers a ridiculous amount of ground, but does so fairly thoroughly and entertainingly. Near the end, the quality craps out a little bit, and it seems a bit more hand-wavy. This, along with the rather large number of typos, leads me to suspect that the book was rushed out the door. The book is timely, to say the least, and so I can forgive it those flaws.

I’m marking this as in-progress because I read the book quickly, and I mean to re-read it more carefully and talk in more detail about the book’s contents. Until then, I’ll just say that the book talks about the following:

  • that the State and the Market were born together
  • that world systems have shifted between debt and coinage
  • that coinage and precious metals coincide with war and plunder
  • that debt is related to slavery
  • various non-monetary cultures, and
  • how daily life is a mixture of market relations, small non-monetary debts, and communism.

I highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in the current economic crisis.

You can find it on isbn.nu.

If you are intrigued by this review, you can read Graeber’s essay Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, which has some of the ideas of _Debt_ in an embryonic form.

Robert Reich at Occupy San Francisco

Robert Reich spoke at Occupy SF on Wednesday, October 19th, 2011. He presents a left-liberal point of view, setting out the premise that progressives can save capitalism. I disagree with much of that, but am impressed to see a liberal icon out on the streets with a megaphone, expounding on economics and the moral nature of the Occupy movement to ordinary people.

There’s quite a bit at this article at the Daily Kos, but I’ve transcribed a section of question and answer below.

Transcript

Military spending

This extraordinary – the doubling of defense spending after 9/11, and what is that being done to the economy? Well, I’ll tell you, what it means is, we don’t have the money for schools, we don’t have the money to fix our roads and bridges and public transportation, we don’t have the money for healthcare, we can’t do what we need to do in this country. And if I were asked, you know, what would one of my planks be in terms of change, I’d say, at least, at least, cut in half the defense budget.

Continue reading “Robert Reich at Occupy San Francisco”