A Free-Market Energy Blog

Sierra Club Energy: Beyond Affordable

By Lance Brown -- September 12, 2012

The Sierra Club’s war on coal, since joined by its war on gas, is really a conflict against industrial progress. Reliable, affordable energy is a ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, and the enemy has wanted to take it ever since Paul Ehrlich et al. got going in the 1960s and 1970s.

The irony is that an honest Sierra Club executive back in the 1980s gave windpower its most infamous nickname, the Cuisinarts of the Air. Sierra Club members have resigned over the organization’s pro-wind policy, and grassroot environmentalists have tasted wind only to spit it out (here and here). And the Old Mare refuses to address devastating criticism about industrial wind, such as from Jon Boone here at MasterResource. [1]

Many examples of Sierra Club policy against environmentally superior dense energy can be chronicled. Here is one from Mississippi involving a state-of-the-art coal plant.

Kemper Plant (Mississippi) Obstructionism

For the past two years, the Sierra Club has fought the completion of one of our nation’s most state-of-the-art power plants. Why? It’s certainly not because of the environmental impact. The Kemper County plant just north of Meridian, Mississippi, would produce fewer emissions than even a typical natural gas power plant and uses recycled municipal wastewater for an even smaller eco-footprint.

Is it the cost? The Sierra Club might claim so, but the organization has never seemed to care much about costs. Rather, the organization has a consistent track record of making disingenuous claims about environmental benefits while understating costs to consumers.

In fact, the Sierra Club’s obstruction of the Kemper County facility isn’t saving Mississippians anything. It’s actually costing them about $500 million by holding up its progress. That’s money straight from the pockets of working people, including thousands of rural cooperative customers, thanks to the Sierra Club’s generous activism.

Monied Waste

The real reason the Sierra Club opposes the Kemper County facility, and other similar projects, is more fundamental: they simply want America’s energy options to be less abundant and more expensive.

The evidence of the Sierra Club’s real strategy is all around us. The group has long waged a campaign called “Beyond Coal” aimed at fighting coal-fired power, which today constitutes around 40 percent of America’s electricity.

In 2011, the group very publicly took $50 million from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to further its campaign. But before that, they also took secret contributions of more than $25 million from Chesapeake Energy, one of the nation’s biggest owners of natural gas holdings. That was back when the Sierra Club saw natural gas as a preferred replacement for the nation’s coal-fired power.

But then something happened. Natural gas reserves boomed and electric utilities began converting some coal-fired plants to natural gas, prompting the Sierra Club to launch a sister campaign called “Beyond Natural Gas.” Just two years removed from accepting millions from a natural gas company, the group was opposed to natural gas as an energy source in principle. It wasn’t a change of heart, but a revelation of strategy.

Slim Energy

Coal, natural gas, and nuclear power account for 90% of the nation’s electricity generation. The Sierra Club opposes all of them. Their official ‘Beyond Coal’ website describes their preferred alternatives: wind, solar, and energy efficiency.

Wind? Despite tremendous growth encouraged by aggressive federal subsidies, wind accounts for less than 5% of the nation’s power. Solar power lags even further behind at far less than 1%. Not to mention that both technologies are not intended to keep the lights on all the time, which means those sources aren’t really replacements at all. Even the Sierra Club knows that.

Of course the Sierra Club doesn’t always support solar and wind projects. Just this past April, the group opposed the Calisco solar project northeast of Los Angeles because of perceived threats to the local ecosystem. In Maryland, the group is fighting the deployment of wind turbines in a campaign to save the forests in that state. In other words, the Sierra Club is opposing energy development in all forms. Period.

The real centerpiece of the Sierra Club’s vision lies in the third alternative: energy efficiency. This doesn’t mean simply buying more efficient air conditioners and turning off lights when you leave a room. Consumers have a rational interest in such behavior already. The Sierra Club’s long-term strategy is more aggressive. By opposing new energy projects in principle, they help ensure that the supply of power doesn’t increase. By driving utilities to use less reliable and more costly energy sources, either through litigation or activism, they help ensure that consumers pay more and more for electricity.

Less Supply = Higher Prices = Forced Conservation

In the world of energy economics, this is known as demand destruction. What it really means is that by making electricity expensive enough, people cannot afford to use it. And that is the real future imagined by the Sierra Club. A Mississippi forced to endure the heat of summer without air conditioning. Minnesotans facing the winter without affordable power. An America that must choose between living in the dark and living in poverty.

The truth is that new technology can provide American families the power to live in comfort and American businesses the energy to grow our economy out of recession, but the Sierra Club fights it. The reality is that plants like the one in Mississippi can provide not only cleaner sources of electricity, but permanent, high-paying jobs, and yet the Sierra Club objects. They are committed to using whatever argument is necessary to keep new megawatts off the grid. Even if those new megawatts make Mississippi more energy independent. Even if a new plant gives a struggling community like Kemper County new hope.


The Sierra Club is already costing Mississippians dearly. Their vision for what lies beyond coal, beyond gas, and beyond nuclear will cost the rest of even more.

Too many of our policy makers and citizens are in the dark about what the Sierra Club really wants for America’s future. But then again, is that where they want us?


[1] The three-part series was titled, The Sierra Club: How Support for Industrial Wind Technology Subverts Its History, Betrays Its Mission, and Erodes Commitment to the Scientific Method.


  1. Jon Boone  

    For an organization largely responsible for increasing coal production a generation ago, mainly because such promotion satisfied its ideology du jour, The Sierra Club’s current stance on electricity production is not just Beyond Coal: it is Beyond Reason.

    It’s not quite true that The Sierra Club rejects coal, nuclear, and natural gas, which today provides over 90% of the nation’s electricity production. What is truer is that the Club rejects hydro as well, which provides about 7% of the country’s power supply.

    What is left, basically 95% wind and a snigglet of solar, wouldn’t power a dog pound with today’s expectations for electricity performance.

    With people like Bill McKibben, The Sierra Club channels climate apocalypse, then stokes the desire for survival with reassurances that medieval tools will do the trick. It is the Harry Potter of Renewables.

    The organization’s policy consists of little more than incantatory spells invoking magical potions and the reading of chicken bones. It’s call for conservation harkens to an Arcadian ideal that (1) never existed and (2) cannot be achieved now that people have experienced the freedom from want that modern power has allowed them to achieve.

    Great post, Lance. Thanks!


  2. Ray  

    The Sierra Club is the new new Luddites. The Luddites wanted to stop industrialization and technological advance and return to the old ways of production. The Luddites are still with us as neo-Luddites. The Unabomber is an example of a Neo-Luddite.
    Another Neo-Luddite is President Barack Obama, who stated that the problem with our economy is that “a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient,” reducing the workforce. “You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM. You don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.”
    According to Obama, this newfangled technology is destroying the economy. If we just return to the old way of doing things, the economy will be wonderful.


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