Renewable energy, energy independence and alternative energy sources were key talking points during the 2008 presidential election. Moving into 2009, President-elect Obama's plan for investing $150 million over the next 10 years into clean energy may help companies that can limit the use of fossil fuels to create renewable energy become the stars of the new year.

In this article we'll examine the top renewable energy players that are likely to benefit from the march toward a clean energy future.

Energy from Waste
Solar, wind and bio-fuels tend to capture the biggest spotlight, but the ingenious concept of creating energy from waste is the mission being carried out by Covanta Holdings (NYSE:CVA). Burning garbage instead of fossil fuels to produce electricity reduces greenhouse gases, lowers the risk of groundwater contamination, conserves land by reducing the need for methane producing landfills, and it reduces the dependence on fossil fuels for energy needs. Every year, Covanta converts 16 million tons of waste into 8 million megawatt hours of clean renewable electricity. That's equivalent to nearly 13% of the electricity supplied by Con Edison (NYSE:ED) to its customers in New York last year. In addition to the 48 energy generation facilities it owns or has an equity stake in the U.S., there are 10 others split between the Americas, Europe and Asia. Covanta is continuing to acquire additional energy generation facilities in the U.S. while exploring development possibilities around the globe.

Energy from Methane
Waste Management
(NYSE:WMI), operator of one of the largest networks of landfills in the U.S. with 300 sites, uses the methane gas from its locations to create electricity. Waste Management is currently supplying enough landfill gas to provide electricity for approximately 400,000 homes a year. That's enough energy to replace the use of nearly 2 million tons of coal per year. Waste Management's primary business is still the collection, transfer, recycling and disposal of waste, but waste-to-energy services are growing in importance to the business as federal and state regulators implement renewable energy programs. As the provider of an essential service the fallout in the financial markets has not had a major impact on Waste Management's business, but the sluggish construction industry and a slowdown in business and consumer spending could translate into less consumption and waste production in 2009.

Energy from the Earth
Ormat Technologies
(NYSE:ORA) produces renewable geothermal energy by focusing on power from the earth's core and from wasted energy produced from industrial equipment. Ormat's method of creating electricity from geothermal resources can be a viable alternative over fossil fuels in an environment where prices for natural gas and oil are rising. Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that mandate states generate an increasing percentage of their electricity from renewable sources also give legs to the likelihood of an increased usage of geothermal energy. Thirty-three states, including renewable energy leader like California, already have RPS goals in place. (To learn more about renewable energy investments, be sure to read our Green Investing Special Feature.)

Final Thoughts
Obama's energy plan specifically calls for 10% of the countries electricity to originate from renewable sources by 2012, and 25% by 2025. The technology capable of producing the most energy for the lowest cost will likely be the outright winner, but like any good investment portfolio, a renewable energy portfolio should contain a combination of multiple renewable energy providers.

For other green industry ideas, check out Top 10 Green Industries.

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