Titans of new industry spring $1 billion clean energy fund

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2016 5:02 PM
Titans of new industry spring $1 billion clean energy fund

DALLAS (AP) — 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.