It's a brighter day for solar stocks like SunPower ( SPWRA) and MEMC ( WFR), but investors should use the SPF liberally. Alternative energy efforts shorted out in the past year as oil became cheap and abundant once again. To help revive development in wind and solar power technology, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday that it will start awarding $3 billion in direct funding for renewable energy projects. According to the guidelines, qualified companies can now apply to the Treasury for up to 30% of their project costs as part of the Obama administration's broader Recovery Act. "These payments will help spur major private sector investments in clean energy and create new jobs for America's workers," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in press release Thursday. "It is part of our broad effort to double our renewable energy capacity in the next few years and make sure that America leads the world in creating the new clean energy economy of the future."
As stimulus goes, $3 billion in ready cash would certainly help stalled projects get moving again, and analysts were quick to sort out some of the potential beneficiaries of this windfall. San Jose solar cell and panel maker SunPower has been among the favorites of the go green investment theme, and UBS picked it in a research note Thursday as a potential winner in the government giveaway. SunPower, a former division of chip shop Cypress Semiconductor ( CY), has a range of solar products from rooftop systems to power plants and is involved in solar projects in the U.S., Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and South Korea.
The stock, however, has had a tough year after investors stopped chasing the new energy boom. SunPower shares are down 38% this year, and down 2% Friday, even in the wake of the Treasury's funding offer. A Citi analysts' research note Friday says it's hard to measure the true solar opportunity in the federal funding package. Advising caution, Citi says the solar module makers like SunPower are still suffering the impact of order cancellations and price cuts. If new development money does start flowing into the sector, Citi sees a more solid bet with outfits like MEMC, a silicon wafer maker that supplies the solar cell shops. Not to stretch the image too far, but in times like these, it's important to watch your solar exposure.