First Wind's $450 million IPO a liquidity gusher?

Jackson West · 08/05/08 09:40AM

Appropriately named First Wind, a wind-generation startup based in Newton, MA with $230 million invested from the likes of JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, DE Shaw and Madison Dearborn Partners which operates 92 kilowatts of generation capacity, has filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission to file an initial public offering. Small problem, however — it's only generated $37 million in revenue against $138 million in losses, and its mainland plants are competing with electricity generated from relatively inexpensive coal and hydro sources. Add the fact that the motivation for the $450 million IPO is, like the latest funding round, meant to cover debts and you have yourself a dicey proposition, especially in the short term. Who will see the green?The IPO will be an opportunity for vested employees and private investors to cash out, not public investors looking to cash in. Meanwhile, residents of Mars Hill, ME (population 1,480) near the picturesque First Wind turbines pictured here are already complaining about too much noise, not enough sunlight and lower property values. Must not be true believers. You'd think a company with that kind of burn rate would be able to grease a few palms.

Is Richard Branson a green hypocrite — or just a bad businessman?

Owen Thomas · 08/04/08 12:40PM

Ireland's Sunday Business Post savages Virgin chief Richard Branson for the $3 billion pledge he made two years ago to invest all the profits from his air and rail-transport businesses into cleantech. The Post notes that Branson's green technology of choice, biofuels, has fallen out of favor, as scientists and politicians debate whether we should be fueling our tanks or feeding people with the source materials for vegetable-derived energy. The Post, in other words, is accusing an entrepreneur of being an entrepreneur. Hardly stinging. If one really wanted to bring Branson down, one might have pointed out how the normally savvy media spinner just highlighted the food-vs.-energy debate when, for a photo op at a test flight powered by coconut and palm oil, he drank some of the fuel out of a coconut. (Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

The greens are just as greedy as the rest of us

Jackson West · 08/01/08 12:00PM

A few weeks ago, I highlighted a post by Mathew Honan which pointed to former gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly using his campaign mailing list to promote Akeena Solar without bothering to disclose that he's an investor and sits on the company's advisory board. Which prompted Akeena design consultant Jamie Belliveau to write me personally: "In your recent Valleywag article, are you implying that Steve Westly is doing something wrong by promoting alternative energy solutions in the Bay Area?" Look, I have nothing against renewable energy, but I'm not willing to hand out an ethical free pass just because some wealthy capitalist is in the business of selling solar panels instead of gas-guzzling SUVs. Belliveau disagrees.

No, Kleiner Perkins won't give your Web 2.0 startup money

Jackson West · 07/18/08 01:20PM

In the latest issue of Fortune, a feature about venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins pointed out that the company has yet to make any investments in Web 2.0. The firm which was an early investor in Google has not been so bullish on the likes of Facebook. (The investment in Friendster couldn't have helped.) Instead, it has continued to focus on biotech on the one hand and changed focus to cleantech on the other. Reporter Adam Lashinsky noted that KP didn't even send a representative to the Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference this year, and relays the bad buzz from Carlsbad:

Steve Westly wants Akeena Solar to cash in on Gavin Newsom giveaway

Jackson West · 07/04/08 12:00PM

Wealthy eBay co-founder Steve Westly, who campaigned for the Democratic Party's nomination to run against California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the last gubernatorial election, has kept busy by investing in startups like Akeena Solar, and he's not just helping with venture capital. He's also using his campaign's email database to promote the company to San Franciscans, urging them to participate in Mayor Gavin Newsom's solar power rebate program — by buying products from Akeena Solar:

Vinod Khosla bets on all the horses, but saddles up with Obama campaign

Jackson West · 07/02/08 04:20PM

Accel Partners' Joe Schoendorf has asserted in the past that betting against venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is a good way to lose money. One reason why is because Khosla covers his bets — in the primary election cycle, Khosla donated the maximum amount allowable for an individual, $2,300, to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama. Since 1986, the India-born venture capitalist has given a total of $63,800 to Democrats and $19,400 to Republicans. But now that the primary season is over and Obama and McCain are due to be coronated by their parties at the summer conventions, which horse will Khosla be riding?

Apple beats Microsoft on Greenpeace environmental index

Jackson West · 07/01/08 04:20PM

The dirty little secret behind the keyboard-tapping, button-mashing, cell phone-yapping, Valley lifestyle? Electronics manufacturing and waste are incredibly toxic. The cycle of planned obsolescence may drive profit growth. It also drives continuing shipments of used and broken electronics to places like Guiyu, China, where workers like the one pictured here make pennies picking over silica wafers for precious metals, while drining water polluted by lead and other industrial contaminants. Amidst all the cleantech hype that venture capitalists and entrepreneurs will save the world with technology, companies like Apple and Microsoft are still busy polluting it with old iPods and Xboxes. Microsoft is the second-worst polluter amongst large electronics manufacturers, according to Greenpeace. And while Apple's charming fakir Steve Jobs has made a public commitment to improving the company's environmental record, it lags behind less "innovative" rivals Dell, HP and Sony. But hey, can you believe the gas mileage you can get in a plug-in hybrid?(Photo from Getty Images)

Don't want to be evil? Better get rid of the Google plane

Nicholas Carlson · 07/01/08 12:00PM

Lefty think tanks Essential Action and the Institute for Policy Studies have a new study out titled “High Flyers: How Private Jet Travel is Straining the System, Warming the Planet and Costing You Money." It implies some not-so-nice things about jet owners and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin — even if they are left-leaning, Prius-driving friends of Bono. According to the report, private jets negatively impact:

Arnold Schwarzenegger slashes Tesla's taxes to keep electric cars in California

Jackson West · 06/30/08 06:20PM

Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped by a Tesla Motors workshop today to announce a tax-break deal. The exemption wooed Tesla execs to move a planned manufacturing facility for the proposed Tesla all-electric family sedan back to California from New Mexico. The Governator said it was further proof that you could be pro-business and pro-environment — not to mention anti-tax. A noted Hummer enthusiast, the former movie star's environmental record isn't exactly stellar.

The Jason Calacanis inusufferability index to reach new heights with arrival of Tesla Roadster

Jackson West · 06/20/08 05:00PM

Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis is eagerly awaiting Tesla Roadster #16, which he's having painted Tang Orange. Expect lots of updates about how much better a steward of Mother Earth he is than you are. He's also teasing readers with the offer of a Tesla Roadster giveaway, but he needs 30-60 million pageviews to do it. If you could get that much traffic to go Mahalo's way, shouldn't he be offering you the position of CEO? [] (Photo by wmmarc)

Moffett Field becoming a country club airport for Valley ultra-rich

Jackson West · 06/20/08 12:40PM

The Google Party Plane isn't the only aircraft using Nasa's Moffett Field to shuttle tech execs in and out of the Valley. An eagle-eyed plane spotter caught Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk's Dassault Falcon taking a round trip between Moffett and Orange County's Van Nuys airport this week. "It must be nice," says the tipster, implying a breathy sigh. My question is, as one of the few people with a Tesla Roadster in his garage, why didn't Musk drive that to the Southland instead of burning gallons of jet fuel? Oh, right, that's well outside the roadster's range.

Tesla Motors crashes roadster earmarked for disgruntled former CEO

Jackson West · 06/19/08 02:40PM

Former Tesla Motors CEO Martin Eberhard, who was ousted along with over two dozen other employees after the company failed to meet an expected shipping deadline, will have to wait a bit longer for his own all-electric roadster. That's because a technician got into a fender bender test-driving the sporty coupe. Eberhard graciously offered to take the same vehicle after it is repaired rather than demand a new vehicle. (Photo by Neeta Lind)

Britney Spears, Perez Hilton and Vinod Khosla walk into a courtroom

Jackson West · 06/18/08 06:40PM

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Kleiner Perkins was sued by prison inmate Jonathan Lee Riches, who wanted $43 million from Khosla because "Khosla’s fund invests in prison buildings," among other concerns. Riches has also sued former Giants slugger Barry Bonds and hundreds of other celebrities, inspiring Khosla to quip, "Well, there is at least one thing I have in common with Britney Spears and Perez Hilton now." [Private Equity Hub] (Photos by AP/John Raoux, Rolando Aviles, Jack Plunkett)

Google charity needs to abandon any pretense of altruism

Jackson West · 06/13/08 10:00AM

Google's do-gooder arm,, is off in Washington holding a conference to lobby Beltway insiders on commercializing plug-in hybrid vehicles. Which makes sense from a self-interest standpoint, since Google is actively investing in companies and technologies that could benefit from subsidies and regulatory changes by the government. has also hired engineers tasked with researching the goal of creating renewable energy for less than the cost of coal. Which, again, could make Google orders of magnitude more money than it ever will selling text ads. So everyone really needs to stop referring to as any sort of philanthropic enterprise, and call it what it is — a venture-investment subsidiary. Just listen to Dan Reicher, director of energy initiatives, talk about exit strategies for some of the projects the organization has funded in the video after the jump. It's certainly a new approach compared to non-profit climate change preparation and prevention advocates. Just don't mistake it for altruism.

Disney acquires San Francisco green-living site IdealBite

Nicholas Carlson · 06/12/08 01:40PM

The House of Mouse has swallowed San Francisco-based tips-for-living-green site IdealBite for $15 million. Heather Stephenson and Jennifer Boulden founded the site in 2005 and later took funding from former AOL exec Bob Pittman, who's also known for backing email lists Daily Candy and Thrillist. Expect more similarly small acquisitions from Disney going forward. After its $350 million Club Penguin purchase last year, Disney said it planned to acquire 20 startups in 24 months.

Aurora BioFuels scores $20 million to wrangle algae

Jackson West · 06/10/08 12:20PM

"Yup, I used to raise corn for ethanol. But then the topsoil blew away and I couldn't even get enough juice to run my tractor or get drunk on Saturday. Then this stranger came to town. Ordered something called a 'la-tay' and called himself a 'vee-cee.' Said he'd give me $20 million to come to Californee and herd algae. So we packed up our furniture in his little toy car and came west. Now I've got a regular bonanza of the slimy critters and the kids got shoes. Hain't looked over my shoulder back east since." []

Bill Gates divesting from Pacific Ethanol at a loss

Jackson West · 06/04/08 03:40PM

Cascade Investment LLC, the fund managed by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, has made good on its November promise to exit from its investment in Pacific Ethanol. What's surprising? He's doing it at a loss, converting his preferred shares to common shares worth $8 apiece and selling them for less than $4 apiece. With 1.4 million shares sold in three days, that's a loss of over $5 million. Pocket change for Gates, certainly, but in almost halving his original 20 percent stake it's a strong vote of no confidence in the ethanol business. While Accel Partners Joe Schoendorf has said that "a good way to lose money is to bet against Vinod [Khosla]" who's been bullish on ethanol, I'm going to side with Gates on this one.

San Francisco to build biodiesel plant at site potentially named after George W. Bush

Jackson West · 06/02/08 06:40PM

The California Energy Commission has granted the City of San Francisco $1 million to build a test plant for converting used grease from restaurants into biodiesel. The plant is slated to be completed by the end of 2008, according to hunky, slick-haired god-mayor Gavin Newsom, and will be located at the Oceanside sewage treatment plant — the same plant that a group of residents are hoping to have renamed after President George W. Bush. [Earth2Tech]