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Is Warren Buffet’s Utility Betting On Clean Energy?

Buffett casts his vote for renewable energy. Will he cast a vote against coal?

Warren Buffet’s utility subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, has made a number of large investments in renewable energy over the past few years. But the famed investor doesn’t exactly make environmentalists jump for joy.

Buffett’s take on climate change has been schizophrenic, to put it kindly. In 2009, he penned an op-ed in the New York Times expressing his concern for the problem, mostly for economic reasons. But since then he has made massive bets on coal mining and transportation — calling the industry “fascinating.” MidAmerican also owns 11 coal-fired power plants around the U.S.

Oddly, the same year Buffett wrote that “the world properly worries about greenhouse emissions,” he fought against legislation that would have put a value on global warming pollution. Rolling Stone labeled him one of the top “climate killers” of 2009 due to his sizable investments in oil and coal.

But MidAmerican made a positive move worth mentioning this week. The company announced on Tuesday at it would set up a new business devoted to developing renewable energy generation projects in the unregulated market — focusing on wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. This is in addition to the $6 billion MidAmerican has invested in wind projects in the last three years, and $3 billion it invested in solar last year.

The announcement itself is notable. But the real story is the way executives at the company are talking about the move. Greentech Media reported on the news this week:


“We look forward to expanding our wind, geothermal, solar and hydro portfolio,” said MidAmerican Energy chairman, president and CEO Greg Abel. “We believe the need for renewable energy will continue to grow.”

Like other well-capitalized, high-profile investors such as Google and Ted Turner, the Buffett company believes this increased emphasis on renewables in its portfolio is a solid business decision that will pay off over time.

“This is a vote for renewable energy,” Weisgall told GTM in discussing why Warren Buffett, perhaps the nation’s premier investment maven, is for this move. “It is not a bet.”

Yet again, the world’s top businesspeople are telling us that renewable energy is not a fad, not a bet, but a solid long-term investment.

This isn’t huge news to anyone who follows the business. But at a time when deep political opposition to clean energy has become completely divorced from the reality on the ground, it’s always worth highlighting what top investors really think — especially the people representing the one of the most successful investors in the world.

Given Buffett’s continued interest in coal and past efforts to stop a price on carbon, this news won’t give much solace to those working to slow global warming pollution. But it’s also a positive sign that an investor of his caliber is “voting” for renewable energy.

When will he finally cast a vote against coal?

Joseph Romm's picture

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Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Feb 3, 2012 2:26 am GMT

“Yet again, the world’s top businesspeople are telling us that renewable energy is not a fad, not a bet, but a solid long-term investment.”

From my point of view I see “renewable energy” as a civilization survival mandate and the difference between humans advancing toward a “Golden Age or bludgeoning ourselves back to a place that, at it’s best, will be far less desirable.

Do these people not get it?

However, (after that little rant) it’s heartening to see some serious resources being directed at renewables even if it’s simply for a profit motive. I hope that MidAmerican will use common sense and sound business thinking to direct the profit gleaned from it’s coal burning facilities, towards building a system in which the wasteful (we should now be saving as much coal and oil as possible for more profitable and socially resopnsible indeavers, carbon fiber tech, etc….) consuming of coal will become a faint memory. A little stockholder help would help!


Thanks for the post

Edward Kerr

Jeff Watts's picture
Jeff Watts on Feb 3, 2012 7:55 pm GMT

“Yet again, the world’s top businesspeople are telling us that renewable energy is not a fad, not a bet, but a solid long-term investment.”

No, not really. Renewable energy, for the most part, is not economical without governmental subsidies and mandates. What the government gives you it can later take away. There are plenty of examples of governments changing their minds and deciding to point their largesse to another newer and trendier special interest group or just cutting back on their total level of spending. You can just observe the massive cuts in subsidies in Spain and Germany over the last couple of years for the most recent examples. So renewable energy will remain a risky enterprise until renewables can compete economically without massive subsidies.

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