Another oil company diversifies -- Suncor commits to sustainability

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Suncor Energy, a leading Canadian oil producer, will spend C$100 million over the next five years to develop sustainable energy resources, including examining "potential opportunities" in wind power. "A year ago, or even six months ago, we might have more readily discounted solar and wind," says Suncor's Ron Shewchuk. But Suncor now has a "vision" of becoming a sustainable energy concern, he says.

"But with this new increased emphasis on alternatives, and the kind of money we are committed to spending, I think you could see investments in either of those."

At the same time as announcing this new direction, Suncor also said it will spend $750 million to more than double its oil production in northern Alberta, to as much as 450,000 barrels a day, which highlights another reason Suncor sees potential in investing in alternative and renewable energy. Almost any kind of investment made in sustainable resources will offset greenhouse gas emissions from its petroleum operations.

The Pembina Institute, a Canadian environment think tank, compares Suncor's $100 million commitment to other sustainable energy programs by BP Amoco and Shell International. According to Pembina, Suncor's initiative, as a percentage of annual corporate investments, "dwarfs" those by the other companies and is "an indication of a company strategy to move seriously into renewables."

While Shewchuk says Suncor has no specific projects in mind yet, he suggests it may move first into "ethanol from biomass, and methane from landfill." The company may fund research and is looking for investment returns higher than the cost of capital.

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