Jan 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Solar shares' spikes signal new energy landscape in D.C.

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

There's a certain symmetry to a pair of energy sector developments Wednesday: Solar stocks jumped on a day that also brought hard evidence the oil industry has little interest in trying to drill in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The big picture: Solar and oil aren't really direct competitors, but both will be affected by the incoming Biden administration's policies and the speed of the global transition toward lower-carbon sources.

Driving the news: Yes, stocks move around for lots of reasons. But Democratic wins in Georgia's Senate races — giving Democrats control of both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. — probably propelled solar shares.

  • The party will have new chances to push climate and clean energy measures, even though the razor-thin congressional margins will impose constraints.
  • The chart above shows the performance of solar companies in multiple market segments, and more broadly, per MarketWatch, "clean-energy exchange-traded funds roared higher Wednesday."
  • "Investors are betting that Democrats will prioritize clean-energy policies, as well as stimulus spending to help make those policies real," they note.

The intrigue: The Interior Department yesterday unsealed bids for leases in the Arctic refuge, revealing very low industry interest.

  • The lease sale drew just $14.4 million in high bids as major oil companies steered clear and there were just three total bidders (and few listed without names as "incomplete").
  • The state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which isn't an oil company, accounted for almost all the high bids, with two small oil companies also snagging tracts.

Why it matters: The paltry bidding is a sign of the times. Oil companies face strained budgets amid the pandemic and cloudy future demand and prices.

  • There's also intense pressure from environmentalists to keep clear, and ongoing and future litigation over federal leasing and permitting.
  • Meanwhile, big banks are increasingly putting new restrictions on Arctic oil finance.
  • And Joe Biden has vowed to try to thwart efforts to develop the region, which was opened under a GOP-crafted 2017 law.

Yes, but: Backers of drilling in the refuge said they're still hopeful about oil development happening eventually.

Tapping what could be huge deposits there has always been a long-term prospect, with potential commercial production perhaps a decade away.

  • Via Bloomberg..."'It is my hope that if and when commercial quantities of oil are discovered on any of these leases, that this action will make history for generations to come,' yielding well-paying jobs, royalty payments and new sources of crude, said Deputy Interior Secretary Kate MacGregor."

Go deeper: Arctic Refuge lease sale goes bust, as major oil companies skip out (Alaska Public Media)

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