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Is the boom over for alternative energy – or just getting started?

Think long term for solar and wind investments, three experts say.

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Matt, you've had the No. 1 fund of all small-cap growth funds over the past five years. This year the sector has tanked. What happened?

Patsky: It obviously has been a very difficult market overall in the beginning of 2008. In addition, our focus, particularly in our Winslow Green Growth Fund, is small-cap growth. And small-cap growth has been particularly under pressure..... You've seen stocks that run [up] the most come down the hardest, even if everything's fine in terms of fundamentals.

So is the green-energy boom over?

Hilton: I don't think so. If you look at the long-term trends that are supporting alternative energy, there's no doubt that this really is a good play.... There will be short-term volatility. But if you look at things like the price of oil, the amount of new investing that's going into promoting new companies in this space, all the potential climate-change legislation that we're seeing, this really does create a perfect long-term [opportunity] for this sector.

How important is the price of oil going forward?

Becker: I think the price of oil is important mainly for psychological reasons, because most of the alternative-energy companies we focus on are producing electricity. And electricity is not produced from oil for the most part. It's from natural gas and coal. But those prices have also jumped significantly. The price of electricity has pretty much followed the price of natural gas and oil. In the past six months or so, it's practically doubled – the wholesale price of electricity in some regions. And so that makes for an environment that's very good for solar and wind companies [and] others that are producing electricity from alternative sources.

So if oil prices stay high, it's full speed ahead for green energy?

Patsky: There's a couple of factors. One is prices. And that's certainly a major factor globally. But you also have to remember that there's now renewed concern about energy security, which has changed the debate in this country to being one of bipartisan support for developing reliable energy supplies domestically. And that has to include renewables. So I think there is tremendous growth ahead over the next decade for renewable energy.

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