Editor's Pick: Originally Published Wednesday, Dec. 23
Wind energy companies are rejoicing now that Congress voted to extend generous subsidies that allow the industry to continue its growth. It's not just the companies that are happy, as investors in wind energy enjoyed a nice little rally once the votes were cast. Initially there were some concerns that an agreement might not be reached, but those fears end up not being realized.
The subsidies come in the form of tax credits, which allow new wind turbine to claim 2.3% for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. The deal is good until 2020, but is slowly being phased out. The amount of the tax credit drops by 20 percent each year until the subsidies expire. The wind power tax credits are going to mean savings of about $14.5 billion for the industry, according to Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation.
The continued subsidies are a major reason for the wind energy industry's growth this decade. The U.S.'s 50,000 turbines power the equivalent of 19 million homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Wind energy is being adopted by the big corporations, with Walmart (WMT) - Get Report , Honda(HMC) - Get Report and others installing highly visible turbines to generate electricity and cultivate an environmentally friendly image. Beyond those gestures, the publicly traded companies more committed to wind present some opportunities for investors.
General Electric earns its money from a variety of sectors, including health care and financial services, but it's been solidifying its industrial holding. The company tanked in 2007 during the economic collapse and sees industrial investments as a solid way to get the company back to its roots.
GE's work on wind turbines is especially strong and continues to expand. Earlier this month, GE bought Alstom SA's energy division for $10 billion, which improves GE's wind portfolio and offers it the opportunity to make money by repairing rivals' wind turbines.
The company's stock right now is hovering above $30 and enjoying its highest value since the economic collapse of 2007. This blue chip stock has also enjoyed regular dividend increases and the annual yield is currently a healthy 3%.
Most of Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners' holdings consist of hydroelectric power, but the company also owns 28 wind facilities throughout the world. The wind production has tripled to 772 gigawatt hours from the previous year, although that pales to nearly 4,000 GWH generated through hydroelectric power.
The company's earnings came in below analysts' expectations in the third quarter of 2015, with a loss of 5 cents. The company has been at a 52-week low throughout December.
The easiest way to invest in wind energy is go with one of the many alternative energy ETFs out there. Most of the alternative energy ETFs include solar in addition to wind power, but First Trust Global Wind Energy is exclusively dedicated to wind power. For an ETF targeting one specific segment, it's fairly diversified, with no company with a share of more than 11% making up the ETF. There's also a mix of different countries represented, from Danish Vestas Wind Systems to the China Longyuan Power Group. The fund has seen 8% growth so far in 2015 and yields a 3% dividend.
The Future of Subsidies
The subsidies will come to an end in 2020, but that doesn't mean they won't be renewed once more. A lot can happen in five years and the government might look a lot different then than it does now. Meantime, the subsidies mean it's full speed ahead for the wind energy industry. Once the sunset date is reached, it's inevitable that the debate will pick up once more.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.