Buffet's Utility Closes Coal Plants in Sierra Club Settlement

Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy utility has agreed to a landmark settlement with the Sierra Club that pushes solar forward, while continuing to reduce coal burning in the US.

MidAmerican will phase out seven coal-fired plants, install pollution controls at another two and build a large solar installation at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

That’s because the Sierra Club took MidAmerican to court for exceeding its polllution permits under the Clean Air Act at three of the plants.

The initiative is part of Sierra Club’s very successful Beyond Coal campaign, which since 2010 has managed to close a sixth of US coal plants, adding up to 130 plants producing 50,717 megawatts of filthy electricity. Only one new coal plant has broken ground since 2008.

In 2009, these coal plants emitted more than 188 million metric tons of carbon pollution, the equivalent annual emissions of more than 39 million passenger vehicles. They also emitted more than 7,600 pounds of mercury and caused 6,000 heart attacks, 60,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature lives a year, says Sierra Club.

"Today’s settlement marks an important national milestone to end the scourge of coal, as well as an important milestone in our ongoing discussion with the Warren Buffett family of companies about combating climate disruption," says Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Beyond Coal campaign.

Buffet’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) is another target of Sierra Club as the largest coal hauler in the US. "BNSF is one of the very worst actors when it comes to lobbying and promoting expanded coal use nationally and internationally," says Nilles. "Over the coming months we will be stepping up our engagement with BNSF to urge them to follow the examples of other forward-looking parts of Mr. Buffett’s holdings."

Since it began acquiring renewable energy projects last year, MidAmerican Renewables has quickly grown to an 1830 megawatt (MW) porfolio in wind, geothermal, solar and hydro. When current wind projects are completed, it will have 2284 MW in that sector alone, making it the largest owner of US wind farms by an investor-owned utility.

On the solar side, MidAmerican bought the enormous 579 MW  Antelope Valley project in California this month, and already owns the world’s second-biggest solar plant – the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm under development in California. And it has a 49% stake in the 290 MW Agua Caliente solar project in Arizona.

Sierra Club’s goal is to end coal burning no later than 2030 and replace those plants with renewable energy. It also seeks to keep the massive US coal reserves underground and out of world markets as part of the largest campaign in its 114-year history.

Beyond Coal is also known for its biggest donor – NYC Mayor Bloomberg donated $50 million to the campaign in 2011.

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