Real Companies Entering Renewable Energy

by Richard T. Stuebi

I reckon that relatively few readers have heard of the company called Preformed Line Products (NASDAQ: PLPC). I know I hadn’t, even though their headquarters is just a few miles from where I live in suburban Cleveland.

A couple of months ago, I came across a press release indicating that PLPC had entered the solar energy sector by acquiring Direct Power & Water of Albuquerque. I decided to investigate further.

PLPC is a real company, not some publicly-traded start-up venture. The company was formed in the late 1940’s, and has steadily grown to a worldwide operation based on core competencies in developing and manufacturing of high-performance cables and connectors for the electric utility and communications industries. PLPC net income in 2006 was $12 million on revenues of $217 million — certainly not anywhere near the size of a Fortune 500 corporation, but nevertheless a nice business.

The letter from the Chairman and CEO (Robert Ruhlman) in the company’s 2006 annual report provided some insight on the impetus for PLPC’s acquisition of Direct Power & Water:

“In addition to multiple opportunities in our traditional markets, there are exciting new opportunities in emerging technologies. One area we are exploring for growth potential is renewable energy. Wind and solar energy are becoming more economically feasible due to improved technologies, rising costs of traditional energy sources and increasing demand for energy independence. We believe PLP can play a significant role in these markets as these technologies develop.”

This kind of statement, and the subsequent follow-up action to make a real bet on solar energy, is exactly what the renewable energy sector needs a lot more of: the interest of mainstream corporate America, especially the small- and medium-sized manufacturing sector, seeing the opportunity to build a business in renewables — truly for profits and not just for PR purposes.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

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