Climate Change: Slow Down, Then Rush

11/17/2009 2:14 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Procrastination and mindless delay can create profits for investors.

The example I use in my book, The Jubak Picks, is investing in environmental trends. (You can get the book on here.)

It’s not that we don’t recognize environmental problems; it just takes so long for us to do anything about them. And then, of course, we rush to find the fastest fix. That delay and then the rushed fix shapes what technologies, industries, and companies profit from whatever we do to protect the environment—and what technologies and companies get filed under “Great idea. Maybe next universe.”

Well, guess what? We’re doing it again. Environmental delay, that is. And the delay is rearranging where and when the profits will come among environmental industries.

One winner from delay is Ormat Technologies (NYSE: ORA). The company has built, either for itself or for other owners, about 10% of global installed geothermal power capacity. The 27% of Ormat’s revenues that don’t come from geothermal come from selling or operating power plants that produce electricity from “waste” heat. The company’s recovered energy generation clients include oil pipeline companies, cement makers, and utility companies. (Ormat’s parent company, Ormat Industries, trades on the Tel Aviv stock exchange, but Ormat Technologies trades on the NYSE.)

I think both those technologies are clear winners from global climate change delay.

This past weekend, President Barack Obama, his Asian hosts (including China), and Denmark, the host of next month’s Copenhagen meeting on global climate change, bowed to reality and admitted publicly that no binding treaty was going to come out of the meeting. Instead, the goal of Copenhagen will be a political commitment that will be translated into a binding treaty in 2010.

The delay means that concerted international effort to lower carbon emissions, to move the world toward non-carbon-emitting alternative sources of energy production, and to reconfigure the world’s energy infrastructure are just that much further down the road.

Now, you may think that delay in this realm is a good thing, since global climate change is a bunch of hokum dreamed up by environmental extremists and venture capitalists bent on world domination. If you believe that, this isn’t an investment for you. (Unless, of course, you’re paranoid or cynical enough to believe that the environmental conspiracy will push a global climate change initiative down the world’s throat whether it’s needed or not.)

But if you think that global climate change is real and that the world does indeed need to do something about it, then the delay in addressing the problem turns an already interesting Ormat Technologies into a winner deserving a buy from Jubak’s Picks.

For two reasons.

First, geothermal is one of the few alternative energy technologies that can provide base-load electrical power. Geothermal power plants produce electricity 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Wind produces electricity only when it blows, and the sun only when it shines. Now, that’s not a problem if your wind turbines, solar cells, and thermal towers are hooked up to a sophisticated electricity grid that allows you to transfer over a continent-sized grid.

But I think the delay in some kind of global climate agreement is exactly the kind of event that delays the huge coordinated infrastructure investment that a high-tech national grid requires. That means that when the world finally gets serious about alternatives, it’s going put up solar and wind capacity as fast as it can, but because of underinvestment in continent-wide grids, it’s going to be very hungry for non-carbon-based load power. Delay will have made geothermal extra valuable. (And because the world’s supply of potential geothermal sites is limited, the companies that stake out claims now will own a limited resource increasingly in demand.)

Second, the company’s recovered energy generation plants are exactly the kind of easily built, quick solutions using proven technology that a world that has dithered over global climate change will need. They can be built just about anywhere that an industrial process throws off heat. We know the technology works. They can be hooked into the current grid (to provide base load power in many cases). And they require capital in increments that lie within most corporate budgets.

Ormat Technologies plans to add about 100 megawatts of new capacity each year. A tough financing environment could keep the company from reaching that target, but Morningstar still figures that Ormat could increase capacity by 10% a year through 2013. That would produce 16% growth in annual revenue.

On November 4, the company reported third quarter earnings of 52 cents a share, up from 35 cents in the third quarter of 2008. Revenue was $120 million, an increase of 20% from the third quarter of 2008.

As of November 17, 2009, I’m adding shares of Ormat Technologies to Jubak’s Picks, with a target price of $49 a share by November 2010. (It traded below $41 Tuesday.)

Full disclosure: I will buy shares of Ormat Technologies for my personal portfolio three days after this I posted.

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