Coal opponents have sought the end of the industry for years, especially through increased regulation. But two environmental activists are proposing a far different solution: buy it out and shut it down.
Writing in The Guardian on March 11, they argued that billionaire investors should spend $50 billion to "buy up and shut down all the private and public coal companies in the US" over the next ten years. They suggested that this plan would save money but a spokesperson for the Energy Information Administration disagreed, citing coal's massive market share.
Kramer and Friend glibly asserted that if renewable energy sources were ramped up those sources would replace coal "with no interruption to electricity supplies, adding only about a penny or two to each kilowatt-hour on electricity bills."
Their proposal itself was very simple, though its implications would be complex and severe. They called on billionaires who had already committed to "donate half of their assets to charity" to instead spend their money buying out the coal industry. They would then be able to "close and clean up the mines" and expand renewable energy to replace it within a decade.
According to Fortune Magazine, coal made up 44 percent of national electricity production in January 2014. Given the lack of long-term storage for inconsistent power sources like solar and wind, it seems inconceivable that could be replaced with little cost. And it is low-income Americans who will suffer most if electricity prices skyrocket. Many are already struggling with electricity bills because of coal plants being closed because of regulation, according to The New York Times.
Despite coal's massive market share, Kramer and Friend claimed that renewable energy would replace coal with little increase to energy prices. They also argued that it would save $100-$500 billion on health and environmental benefits. According to Green Car Reports, the two will be lobbying for the proposal at the 30th annual TED Conference in Vancouver that begins March 17.
But, when the MRC's Business and Media Institute (BMI) asked the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a part of the Department of Energy, what sort of impact this proposal would have. An EIA renewable energy analyst, Gwen Bredehoeft called it a "really extreme proposal."
Bredehoeft said that the plan was "more radical than anything we're looking at" and said the effect on electricity prices "would be a really extreme impact."
And, Chris Warren, press secretary for the Institute for Energy Research, tells BMI that the $50 billion shutdown scheme would cause energy prices to skyrocket:
It is highly unlikely that we could or would even want to phase out coal over the next ten years. Attempting to do so would result in skyrocketing electricity prices. Our grid cannot solely rely on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar because they are unreliable and expensive.
It is typical for environmentalists to downplay the costs, but with average U.S. residential electricity costs averaging between 11 and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, even a penny or two increase per kilowatt would be a significant hike in the average electricity bill of American families.
Why do Kramer and Friend want to shut down coal? They cite climate change as a pressing reason for this drastic change. Kramer and Friend asked billionaires to consider "What better investment could they make to protect their families, future generations, and their assets?" According to them, such donors would be heroes "recognized forever as pioneers in responding to climate change."
Both Kramer and Friend have a history of extreme environmentalism. Kramer, despite running a non-profit advocating for electric cars, has expressed his disapproval of driving at all. According to Auto Blog Green, Kramer said in 2011 "I love plug-in cars, but a mile not driven is a best use of resources." That article also said, Kramer thinks the best unit of energy is a negawatt.
Friend runs a company, Natural Logic, dedicated to consulting on sustainable business strategies. Friend warned in 2010 that life itself depended on sustainable business model, saying "because you will find one, create on or die." In this same article he claimed that sustainability can come at no cost, calling warnings of financial burdens "fundamentally wrong."