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Speed Dial: Tom Casten

The founder of Recycled Energy Development wants factories and power plants to turn more of their pollution into zero-emission electricity

You've been recycling energy for 35 years. What's changed lately?

There's been some awakening by policy makers that energy we get from waste is as clean as wind or solar or geothermal. Through cogeneration [generating electricity and heat from a single fuel source] and capturing waste heat a factory already emits, we could cut CO2 emissions by about 20 percent and save about $100 billion a year.

What does the death of climate legislation mean for you?

In a perverse way, it may be good. A lot of people are saying, "What can we do that's clean and saves money?" When the debate is framed that way, all roads lead to more efficient generation of electricity. That's the one area that has not gained efficiency in 50 years.

Is recycled energy widespread?

It's not like this is some idea waiting to be demonstrated. Nearly $2 billion has been invested in 275 projects. One company saves about $100 million and about 1 million tons of carbon a year. Only a small share of the opportunity has been tapped in the last 35 years.

What's the holdup?

There are no sizing limitations on production tax credits for wind or investment credits for solar, while recycled energy is capped at 50 megawatts with only a 10 percent credit. A lot of small companies are attracted to the economics of using energy twice. They find you've got to be good at regulation and financing. You've got to figure out how to sell the power. The deck is stacked against them.

Leiber is Small Business editor for, Entrepreneurs editor for, and covers small business for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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