The Sierra Club Foundation Has a Bright Shining Conflict of Interest

Is the Sierra Club’s fanatical support of solar power, which contributes less than half a percent of total U.S. energy consumption, influenced by its Board of Directors’ financial interests? Here’s what we know: Its foundation’s board is packed with members who stand to profit handsomely should solar become more widely implemented. Among them:

  • Steven Berkenfeld – Vice Chair – Manages Barclays’ investment banking coverage of the Cleantech sector.
  • Sanjay Ranchod – Secretary – Director and Assistant General Counsel of solar company SolarCity.
  • Geeta Aiyer – Founder and manager of environmental investment funds Walden Capital Management and Boston Common Asset Management.
  • Peter Cartwright – Managing Partner at renewable energy company EcoPower.
  • Lynn Jurich – Founder and Co-CEO of solar company Sun Run.
  • Mike Richter – Partner at renewable energy company Healthy Planet Partners.
  • Dan Shugar – CEO of solar company Solaria Corporation.

It may seem obvious that the Sierra Club would put its money where its mouth is, but when it tries to use the power of government to coerce solar’s implementation, rather than simply trying to persuade people that it is the best energy source, eyebrows get raised. The Club scored a big win this week when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he’s devoting $1 billion of taxpayer money to increase New York’s solar power generation ten-fold over the next decade. This decision follows heavy solar lobbying by New York chapters of the Sierra Club as part of its statewide “Turn, Don’t Burn” initiative.

Cuomo parroted Sierra Club’s solar talking points – solar is clean, affordable, and a job creator – to justify his decision. But the facts make clear that solar energy is neither affordable – as illustrated by the necessity of Cuomo’s billion dollar subsidy – nor is it a job creator: The best research shows that “green jobs” are a myth and that for every green job created, 2.2 jobs are lost. (Ironically, Cuomo has maintained a state moratorium on fracking, which actually would bring the affordable energy and job creation that he’s called for – as shown by nearby Pennsylvania.)

No one questions the Sierra Club’s commitment to solar energy. But its leaders’ financial stake in its success sows seeds of doubt around the supposedly noble rationale on which such a commitment is based.

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