Gov. Jerry Brown and other California political figures, especially Democrats, have frequently touted "clean tech" as the key ingredient in the state's economic future.
However, the state's own big pension fund, the California Public Employees Retirement System, apparently sees it as a loser.
While running for governor in 2010, Brown promised to fast-track permits for solar energy projects and take other steps to move the state away from dependence on oil and other carbon-based energy sources, promising that it would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
A few months after becoming governor again, Brown flew to Blythe in the middle of summer to break ground on what would become, he and others said, the largest solar energy project in the world, saying, "This is really big."
"It's not for the faint of heart," Brown told a conference on renewable industry. "Scientific and technological progress moves by trial and error."
It's apparently mostly error, however, in the view of CalPERS. Joseph Dear, its chief investment officer, told a Wall Street Journal-sponsored conference on the environment and the economy last week that CalPERS is reducing its investment in such technology because it's a loser.
Referring to the fund's $900 million investment in "clean tech," Dear told the conference, the Journal reported this week, "We're all familiar with the J-curve in private equity. Well, for CalPERS, clean-tech investing has got an L-curve for 'lose.' Our experience is that this has been a noble way to lose money. And we're not here to lose money. We have dialed back."
Dear added that CalPERS may look again at clean-tech investing if the profits and returns are there, "but if it takes 12 years to get the money out, the internal rate of return is not going to be very good, even if the investment is reasonably successful."
CalPERS is under pressure to improve its investment returns because it lost about $100 billion in the banking and stock market crash and its board has tentatively approved a 50 percent increase in contributions from state and local governments to make up for those losses.