Energy Foundation

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1991

Three large foundations—Rockefeller, MacArthur, and the Pew Charitable Trusts—pledged a combined $20 million in 1991 to found a new organization devoted to political-campaign-style efforts to change U.S. energy policy: reducing energy use, promoting renewable sources, and (most recently) pushing the U.S. economy away from “yesterday’s fossil-fuel technologies” via proposed government caps and taxes. The Energy Foundation is the resulting conduit. It collects money from large givers, then re-grants it to groups scrambling to change policy. The original donors were eventually joined by the Packard, Hewlett, and McKnight foundations, and a few wealthy donors like Jeff Skoll, Tom Steyer, Julian Robertson, and James Simons.

The Energy Foundation was influential in convincing around three dozen states to set controversial regulations requiring utilities to generate a minimum fraction of their electric power from renewable or alternative sources, passing on the increased costs to their customers. The EF also helped convince regulators in California to require that one out of every six cars purchased in the state by 2025 be a zero-emission electric plug-in. The foundation then helped export the California standard to a dozen other states.

The Energy Foundation now funnels approximately $80 million per year from its supporting philanthropists to about 500 different action groups.