Opel Intl sees green power in polluted wasteland

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Where others see polluted industrial wastelands, Opel International Inc, a tiny Canadian-listed renewable energy company, sees clean meadows of green power.

The Connecticut-headquartered company is moving ahead quickly with recently announced plans to turn contaminated industrial or commercial sites across North America -- often seen as worthless for commercial development -- into solar or other green energy fields.

According to its chief executive it has been flooded with calls.

“Since that press release hit the field (in July) we have received a tremendous response from all over the United States and Canada ... It is very hard to keep up,” Opel CEO Leon Pierhal told Reuters in an interview.

Opel is not the first to see a clean electricity makeover for abandoned lands polluted by factories or mines, but Pierhal believes it is the first to offer a complete service: from site review and clean-up to negotiation of power contracts, securing government grants and installing the green energy equipment.

That could include Opel’s own solar panels and trackers, or other companies’ wind turbines and geothermal plants.

There are an estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated sites in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which runs a “brownfields” program that hands out loans and grants for land clean-up.

Shares in Opel, a C$32 million ($31 million) company that is traded on the TSX Venture Exchange, have jumped by 28 percent this month and are ahead 48 percent in the past six months.

But that may have as much to do with the massive leap in revenue that Opel forecast in June along with outlining its new business plans.

The company is sticking with its forecast of revenues reaching C$50 million to C$80 million in the next 18 months from sales mostly of its solar trackers, but also from its concentrating solar panels, Pierhal said.

That compares with just C$608,000 in revenue for all of 2009.

“We started moving out product 14 to 16 months ago and these have now started to take root,” said Pierhal, who has 40 years of experience in the semiconductor, telecom and information technology industries, with companies including Amdahl Corp, which was bought by Fujitsu Ltd, and Jupiter Technology, which was sold to Intel Corp.

Concentrating photovoltaic technology systems use lenses or mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells. These cells are usually more expensive than conventional flat-panel solar cells but can potentially produce 40 percent more electricity from sunlight.

Trackers are devices that allow panels and other solar equipment to track the sun to increase efficiency.

Pierhal said Opel is in final negotiations with five groups, including municipalities, private individuals and Native Indian groups, to clean up and install power equipment on contaminated sites. Three of the projects are in the United States and two are in Canada.

This month, Opel announced a partnership with a private company to install utility-scale solar fields on brownfield sites across North America. Opel earns a management fee for its services, although the bigger money-spinner will be installing its trackers and panels on the properties.

With fewer than 30 employees, the 10-year-old company, which started life selling semiconductor chips to the U.S. military, will have to outsource much of the services it is offering.

Opel, which is below the radar of most sell-side equity analysts, got a boost earlier this month when small Toronto-based investment bank Pinetree Capital Ltd said it had been buying up shares in the company and now owned 13.2 percent. This makes it Opel’s biggest shareholder.

The penny stock closed at 38 Canadian cents on Tuesday.

($1=$1.03 Canadian)

Editing by Rob Wilson