Monday, November 9, 2009

In Obama Administration a Green Economy Means Lobbyist Interests Get Rich

Anyone familiar with the political connections of VC firm Kleiner Perkins, reasonably assumes that if they go after federal stimulus funds, they will likely get what they want. As we've seen with Fisker Automotive and Silver Spring Networks, Kleiner firms now have won over $1Bil from the Department of Energy or roughly the size of what others have reported to be Kleiner's entire investment in CleanTech. (can anyone say "break even?") But, before you conclude that Kleiner only needs to show up to win these funds, take a note of caution: it turns out that Kleiner Perkins is not the only politically connected CleanTech firm with it's hand out for DOE funds. That's right, even if Kleiner Perkins companies in some cases do not have to compete in a market to win these DOE funds, Kleiner Perkins the VC firm will have to compete for President Obama's money. I'm sorry, I mean Tax Payer Money! (how could I screw that up?)

Competitor #1 to Kleiner's complete domination of DOE stimulus funding: another VC firm called the US Renewable Energy Group. These are the guys that partnered with Cielo Wind Power and The Communist Party of China, I mean bankers in China, to put together a Texas Wind project. It might succeed because have a look at the team trying to pull home the funds (well, tax credits anyway). The US-Reg team reads like a Barak Obama grade school soccer team roster. "Kick it over here, Barak!" Does anyone formerly in politics do anything but seek federal funding any more? Depends on what Dick Cheney is up to these days I guess.

Before the Obama US Reg good ole boys get too celebratory though, they still face steep obstacles...not so much on the merit of their technology or program (a throwback to a market system we used to have) but rather on political momentum. First of all, they have Senator Charles Schumer on their back complaining about their prospects. Senator Schumer has received campaign contributions from Kleiner's John Doerr (to name at least one). So Schumer is upset but not enough to necessarily ding Fisker Automotive for having an investment from an Arab Company on their financial sheets. (google prior blogs about that or search SEC records--you won't find it in a newspaper).

Cathy Zoi & Al Gore

Assume for the moment that Schumer settles down and US-Reg has a fighting chance. Probably not going to happen even in that case because, Al Gore's former Alliance for Climate CEO, Cathy Zoi is the Department of Energy's treasurer of $20Bil in stimulus funds. That's with a B not an M, US-Reg.

Kleiner's John Doerr and the rest of Barak Obama's "outside" Economic Advisors

If you are Al Gore, you don't even have to lobby the DOE to get a buck or two. Why would you? Crazy talk. But the idiots over at the Wall Street Journal asked Gore about this any way. Let me summarize: Gore, did you lobby anyone in the administration for DOE funds? Nope. Ok, good enough. So, it's silly because everyone knows Gore's connections are so tight he doesn't need to lobby. In fact, even when Gore is lobbying for DOE funds it's not even really lobbying really. At least, that's what it seems like considering the recently released White House Visitor's log.

Kleiner's Gore has visited the White House 4 times in 2009 including one visit with Kate Brandt, who is a special assistant to Energy Czar, Carol Browner. Browner made the news recently when she announced several million dollars in DOE funding would go to Kleiner Perkins investment Silver Spring Networks for a project in Browner's home state (see beginning of article). So, you see, US-Reg and Al Gore fans, there's a bit of a but not much of a contest here. And that's good, because there might not even be a problem around which a competition can be organized if the new revelations around the supposedly better understood causes of global warming being tossed around now...causes which include less impact by CO2.

In case any other Kleiner competitors are out there wondering about their prospects due to doubts raised by this article, there's additional information to show just how tight this little political team is today. I'm going to quote at length from a US News & World report interview of John Doerr:

Has the recession affected what you do?

The answer is profoundly. Were it not for the policies in the stimulus bill, America would be out of the energy business. The capital markets to fund new solar—the capital markets are terrible. What has happened is Congress has said, "We want to see this kind of work funded."

How so?

More secure Department of Energy loan guarantees. There is funding for R&D. I am very optimistic.

Are you optimistic about the long-run?

There has never been a time to be more optimistic than right now. Obama has put together the dream team to work on energy and energy policy. I'm really privileged to be on the outside advising them. If you look at the team, they've got Cathy Zoi [DOE assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy], they've got Matt Rogers [a former McKinsey executive and now senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu]. He's creating four investment banks within the Department of Energy—here's $80 billion we want to invest really wisely. There's Carol Browner in the White House. We've got leadership in Congress that understands these matters—Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi. This is an A-Team.

You were tapped for the p resident's economic advisory board back in February. What has your role been?

I think this president has said he is not interested in being trapped inside the echo chamber of Washington, D.C. [Our goal] is to provide outside advice directly to him about what we can do to get our economy going. He's juggling a lot of balls at once. I think he's going to achieve his agenda. I think he's going to make sure this isn't a jobless recovery. I am an American, a grateful kid from St. Louis, and I think we've all got a responsibility to the generations to come to ensure that America is a leader for the planet.

Which brings me back to batteries. Regardlesss of whether or not the Earth is warming and it's caused by humans, the United States needs better energy storage to kick the foreign oil habit. Unproven electric vehicle programs aren't going to get us there. Only better batteries. Yawn.

Photos are linked to original sources.

Note: many people who read an article like this ask, "How much does that cost?" If you're really truly cynical and you discount all human effort outside of pure money changing hands (which is incalculable unless you go by lobbyist fees), then the figure for $1bil in funding may be around $2Mil. At least, that's how one might read the Wall Street Journal's numbers. I'm not cynical like you though.


EEStor's Carl Nelson Flexes Muscles

EEStor's 80 Yr Old Carl Nelson after a recent workout. (accuracy of photo not guaranteed)

Thanks to an alert tavern owner in Thailand known only as Mark, we learned yesterday that EEStor's principle co-inventor, Carl Nelson, former colleague of MIT's Arthur Von Hippel, is busy battling away with the United States Patent & Trademark office for EEStor's claims. In a letter dated November 6, 2009, Nelson continues to press for the EEStor discovery of "a primary particle having an unexpectedly high relevative permittivity with low variance within the temperature range of -55C and 125C and having desirable breakdown voltage above and beyond what those idiots like Y_Po and EE-Tom think it should be." Elsewhere, Nelson states that the "primary particles of composition modified barium titanate [have a] dielectric constant of greater than 33,000 and high break down voltagae of greater than 6000V. Or in other words, plenty of power to kick any other capacitor's ass. Bring it."

In a rare follow up interview, Nelson reflected on EEStor's relative strength and power in relation to all other would be competitors, "as far as energy storage is concerned, it's us vs a bunch of puny 12yr old boys. We will dominate the world with our genuinely ULTRA capacitors and enjoy life feasting on our victory." (editor's note: accuracy of quote similar to photo).

So, there you have it. Carl Nelson, getting a bit feisty and flexing his muscles. What else would you expect the co-inventor of the 21st century's greatest technological wonder?

Note: the photo and silly quotes are not real.