Clean Energy Cleans Up

Chalk one up for the glass-half-full crowd. Yesterday, PG&E (NYSE: PCG  ) , California's largest utility, made good on a 2003 settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission that required it to invest in clean energy sources. The deal, which sets aside $30 million for funding start-ups involved with clean or renewable energy technologies, stems from PG&E's 2001 bankruptcy filing. (Talk about making lemonade.)

The news is striking for two reasons. First, the $30 million is double what was originally earmarked. That signals an interest on the part of the company to earn more profits from renewable sources. Yeah, I know $30 million is barely a rounding error for a $20 billion company. But progress is progress. And $30 million is nothing to sneeze at when you're a start-up, or a small cap like Evergreen Solar (Nasdaq: ESLR  ) .

Second, the fund is attracting the interest of some major venture capital firms. Nth Power, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and VantagePoint Venture Partners have all signed up to help manage the fund. And Nth Power and Draper Fisher will have skin in the game, matching funds they invest on behalf of the fund dollar for dollar, up to the $8.5 million each will have under management. That, too, signals an important commitment to the sector that should have investors salivating.

Why? Because venture investors have a history of bringing forth huge stock market winners, including current faves Apple Computer (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . What's instructive is that the Silicon Valley firms that funded Apple and Google had several bets in the same or adjoining sectors. In essence, these capitalists helped erect entire industries and, as a result, helped ensure massive returns for their limited partners.

It's not unreasonable to expect the same for clean energy. As more VCs join the party more money will flow in, creating a sturdy industry that could grow to be worth billions. Will it happen overnight? No, this is still an infantile market. But adolescence is a whole lot closer today than it was yesterday.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers counts himself fortunate that both his father-in-law and brother-in-law are electricians. He'd probably accidentally kill himself if he tried to do more than change the occasional lightbulb. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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