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GE Keeps Investing in Cleantech, But Warns of Policy Lapse

While some companies that support renewable energy simply buy Renewable Energy Credits and Carbon Offsets to call themselves "green," other companies are actually making tangible investments in the sector. GE is one of those investors.

As part of its Ecomagination initiative, GE has scaled up its wind turbine manufacturing, developed smart grid technologies, backed next-generation thin film companies and built more efficient locomotives. These investments have made GE a leader in cleantech and helped the U.S. stay competitive in the race to develop new energy technologies.

The investment arm of GE's cleantech efforts – GE Energy Financial Services – reached a significant milestone this month, meeting a target of putting $6 billion into renewable energy by the end of 2010. Renewables now make up 30% of the GE Financial Services portfolio, an increase from 6% in 2006.

In 2009 and 2010 to date, the business unit invested or committed to invest more than $1.5 billion in wind farms, closed transactions in geothermal and hydroelectric power generation, and made venture capital investments in smart grid and renewable energy companies. The company's investments over the years have spanned 14 countries, 95 wind farms, 40 solar installations, six hydroelectric projects, 12 landfill gas facilities, and 15 projects involving other technologies, across a wide spectrum of capital – from project equity to debt, and venture capital.

The $6 billion announcement was made at ACORE's Phase II conference, a Washington-DC based forum for advocates, business leaders and politicians to talk about how to grow the U.S. renewable energy industry.

At the Phase II conference, GE executives are calling on politicians in Washington to pass the Treasury Grant Program before it expires at the end of the year. The program has been a life-saver for wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy companies building projects. Renewable energy trade groups were hoping that the Grant Program and key production tax credits would be a part of an important tax bill currently before Congress; however, it was stripped out last week.

Although prospects for a cap and trade program or national renewable energy target are not looking good, business leaders are still pushing to extend key tax credits to give investors like GE some clarity. If they are not extended, GE says that U.S.-based investment in 2011 could fall fall by double digits.

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