GE's leader issues an energy warning
Apr 30, 2010 - L.M. Sixel Houston Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
While the rest of the world invests in renewable, nuclear and cleaner energy sources, the U.S. continues to fall further behind, General Electric's chairman and CEO said Wednesday in Houston.
In an interview before the company's annual meeting, Jeffrey Immelt said the situation eventually could put the nation at a competitive disadvantage.
"We just seem to be stalled," he said.
Over the next five years, China will have installed five times more than the U.S. in power capacity, Europe is moving aggressively into offshore wind power, and Asia is focusing on solar energy, he said.
Only two of about 50 nuclear plants under construction globally are in the U.S., he said. "It's just not enough."
Immelt called for a comprehensive government effort to put standards into place so businesses can invest in technologies that have a solid future.
"Some leadership in Washington would be helpful," he said, emphasizing that he's not focused on any one technology.
If the United States doesn't do it, GE will have to go overseas. "We have to go where the action is," he said.
GE recently announced it would invest about $200 million in European offshore wind projects, especially in the United Kingdom and Norway. The investment will create about 2,000 jobs.
Putting energy policy into place should be driven by energy competitiveness and job creation, he said, rather than tying it so closely to climate change and environmental issues.
"We've all done a disservice to the debate by hanging it as a 'green initiative' when really it's about energy security, energy productivity and pollution reduction," Immelt said.
Simplifying its portfolio
During the annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Immelt told the 300 shareholders attending that GE had simplified its portfolio by shedding noncore assets, focusing on emerging market growth and strengthening its cash position to give it flexibility.
General Electric is based in Fairfield, Conn., but holds its annual meetings in various locations.
Several investors lined up at the microphones to complain about last year's cut in quarterly dividends, which went from 31 cents to 10 cents a share.
Immelt, who called it one of the most difficult decisions he's ever faced, promised an increase soon but said he couldn't say when or how much.
Ron Flowers of Erie, Pa., who retired in 1997 as a plant photographer, told Immelt that he and other GE retirees "need a cost of living increase in retiree pensions."
He heads up his local retiree group and typically loads up a bus of his members for the annual meeting.
Flowers also told Immelt that the retirees he represents are concerned that health care premiums will increase, and said many of his members are caught in a squeeze between rising prices and lower dividends.
"It's not as if someone who is 75 years old can go back to work," he said.