Alternative Energy Watch: Evergreen Solar Warns; Connecticut Rejects Wind Farm Plan; Car Buyers Thinking Electric (ESLR, GM, TM)

Douglas A. McIntyre

Today’s alternative energy news leads off with a warning from Evergreen Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: ESLR) that it may not be able to continue as a “going concern.” The state of Connecticut has rejected a proposed wind farm, and drivers are willing to buy some electric cars.

Solar PV maker Evergreen Solar has filed a “going concern” letter with the SEC stating that the company may not be able to “maintain liquidity sufficient to operate our business.” Such a letter is often the first step to a filing for bankruptcy protection.

Evergreen issued a liquidity warning last month, and we suggested at the time that a “going concern” letter might be in the works. [] There’s nothing to add to that, sad to say.

In Connecticut, the state’s siting council has rejected a proposal to build a 3.2-megawatt wind project near the town of Prospect. The project would have been the first wind farm in the state, even though it comprised just two turbines.

The rejection was based on the council’s view that the nearly 500-foot tall towers would create an undesirable visual impact. In other words, NIMBY — not in my back yard. The developer said that the turbines would have been far from residences and that the decision was anti-business and bad policy. The same developer has filed pending applications for two more wind farms in the state.

The Connecticut state legislature is considering legislation that would require the state to develop wind farm regulations, which would include siting requirements. A vote on the bill is expected for next week.

The state council’s response to the visual impact of the proposed wind farm is likely to be repeated in many other places where the huge towers are being proposed. A wind farm in Maine has raised the ire of nearby residents for making too much noise, another well-known issue about wind turbines. People may want clean energy, but sometimes the trade-offs appear to be just too high.

Finally today, a recent survey has indicated that as many as 85% of US consumers would buy a battery-powered car. That number further breaks down to 3% who would buy right now, 57% who would buy when they replace their current set of wheels, and 25% who would buy once the technology is proven and widely available.

Most consumers (58%) would prefer to purchase plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) like a Chevy Volt from General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM) than an all-electric like the Nissan Leaf (8%). Interestingly, the Prius hybrid from Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) didn’t figure in the results.

It’s still early days, but Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs sell fewer than 1,000 cars/month each. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of pent-up demand for the cars either. It could be that the surveyed consumers were planning on holding on to their cars for a long time or that they don’t expect the technology to improve enough in their lifetimes. Electric car adoption in the US has always been forecast to be pretty slow, and if anything, this survey reinforces that view.

Paul Ausick