Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Al 'Midas' Gore II: WSJ Piles On

Following Forbes' skewering of the motivations of Al Gore, we get this today from WSJ's editorial board:
[L]ike the energy barons of an earlier age, Mr. Gore has the chance to achieve enormous wealth after being named last week as a new partner at the famously successful venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. ... If Mr. Gore can develop market-based solutions to environmental challenges, we will cheer the well-deserved riches flowing his way. On the other hand, if he monetizes his Nobel Peace Prize by securing permanent government subsidies for nonmarket science projects, he'll have earned a different judgment.

There's no shortage of new capital pouring into alternative energy projects these days. According to the National Venture Capital Association, "clean tech" start-ups attracted more than $800 million in venture capital last quarter, a new record. What's not clear is whether these are fundamentally energy ventures or political ventures.

Gore is becoming the king of the alternative energy investors/venture capitalists. Which means, basically, he's the king of stuff nobody actually uses, to lift a nice phrase from Manhattan Institute thinker/engineer Peter Huber.

How do you make money off of something no one uses? You get the government to subsidize it, which is why the former Dem Veep/almost Prez Al Gore is really so important to the alternative energy biz.

It isn't his knowledge of the products; it's his influence in Washington and in 50 state capitals. If Al can't deliver the subsidies, his portfolio can't deliver returns. WSJ spells it out by looking at some of the companies Kleiner Perkins has invested in:
  • Altra, an ethanol company. Ethanol is infeasible without taxpayer doles
  • Mascoma, ditto
  • Amyris Biotechnologies, biofuel developer. Biofuels get the same sort of subsidies as ethanol
  • Miasole, solar manufacturer. Stands to gain from proposed federal subsidy for solar power
  • Ausra, ditto
  • Altarock Energy, ditto, except for geothermal energy
Get the picture? Gore explains it as, "What we are going to have to put in place is a combination of the Manhattan Project, the Apollo Project and the Marshall Plan, and scale it globally." Translated, "What we are going to have to put in place is a combination of Massive Government Subsidy I, Massive Government Subsidy II and Massive Government Subsidy III, and as we bilk the American taxpayer for these personal profits public-spirited subsidies, we'll be working to get the same internationally."

WSJ says Al will deserve every penny if even one of these technologies frees us from our current unhealthy energy scenario, but I'm not so kind. The bad ideas and outright scams in the alternative fuels biz are legion, the good products are few -- and the free market is fully capable of finding and building those few without the taxpayers underwriting Gore's nest-feathering.

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