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2007 a bit off for Kleiner Perkins' green-tech portfolio

Layoffs and delays were the big news stories this year for clean-technology companies the Silicon Valley venture capital firm had invested in.

The superheroes of venture capital haven't exactly had a completely smooth year in green tech.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers wasn't the first VC firm to get into green tech. Nth Power, NGEN Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Mohr Davidow Ventures got there first, but Kleiner brought a lot of attention and prestige into the field, and helped push green tech toward the top of the VC agenda in the second half of 2004.

The firm also began to put money into a lot of companies with a pretty good amount of fanfare. John Doerr even cried in public at the TED conference to show his commitment.

This year, though, came with its rough patches.

For one thing, some of the firm's portfolio companies suffered setbacks. Thin-film solar-panel maker Miasole had to delay production and swap CEOs. Rumors that the company laid off 40 employees was confirmed by three former Miasole employees, according to Greentech Media. The Web site also said founder Dave Pearce may have left the company.

Similarly, supersecretive EEStor (another portfolio company) delayed production. Board member and Dell alum Mort Topfer also left the board, according to reports.

Mascoma, the cellulosic-ethanol maker, fared better. It landed grants with Michigan and Tennessee to build plants in those states, but its first plant, in New York, will come on line about a year late.

Conversely, Kleiner's name has been absent from the big success stories. EnerNoc and Comverge both launched IPOs this year. In solar, Suntech Power Holdings and First Solar saw tremendous growth. None of these are Kleiner companies.

Other companies outside the firm's portfolio had delays too. Tesla Motors put off its car and switched CEOs as well. But this is Kleiner Perkins we're talking about here.

In the 650 area code, people instinctively genuflect at the mere sound of the name. When Al Gore joined the firm a few weeks ago, it was national news, though many wondered what he would exactly bring to the table. The firm gets praised for its foresight on a regular basis, so it's fair (in my book, at least) to harp on the setbacks.

Still, the firm's portfolio does contain a number of strong companies: Mascoma, Amyris Biotechnologies, Ausra, GreatPoint Energy. And the firm commands billions of dollars, while I shop at Target.

Next year could easily be a completely different story.