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Italian Energy Giant Invades America: Trespassing Against the Osage Nation

Enel: An Italian Energy Giant Invades America (full series)
Eating Up the Environment | Trespassing Against the Osage Nation
Virtue Signaling | The Cheapest Way to Make Expensive Electricity

Trespassing Against the Osage Nation

An independent journalist, Bryce maintains on his own initiative a Renewable Rejection Database to track resistance to industrial wind and solar facilities. There are more than 600 entries. Nearly all if not all of them are stories of underfunded locals opposing the needless blight on their landscapes inflicted by these projects.

One of the most iconic victories over Enel was won by the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe based in Oklahoma.

During the summer of 2011 the Osage County Commission (the local, rather than tribal government) voted to allow Enel to place wind turbines on more than 13 square miles of private property. But the Osage tribe argued that digging the pits to hold the turbines was the equivalent of mining the property and could not be done legally without the tribe granting a permit to Enel.

A 1906 federal law gave mineral rights underneath the county to the Osage Nation.

The tribe did not wish to permit wind turbine construction, citing among their concerns the threat to their underground mineral holdings, the potential disruption of ancestral burial plots, and the visual disturbance of having wind turbines spinning over the landscape near their homes.

Tribal leaders warned immediately after the county government vote that the any turbine construction that ensued “may have to be removed or relocated” if found in violation of the tribe’s underground rights. When Enel went ahead and built its wind farm anyway, the Osage Nation sued.

The tribe accused Enel of willfully trespassing and continuing to do so long as the turbines are in place. Enel countered that it trespassed just once, in good faith, because it thought it had all the permission it needed from the county.

In September 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit sided with the tribe. Enel appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump administration lawyers sided with the tribe and in January 2019 successfully encouraged the High Court to refuse to hear Enel’s appeal.

Deciding on damages in late December 2023, a federal judge gave the Osage Nation an unmitigated victory. The tribe had asked for nothing less than removal of the wind turbines and that’s exactly what they will receive. Enel claims this will cost $300 million and that this price is not reasonable. Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue at all if Enel had listened to the tribe’s timely warning in the first place.

“By thrashing Enel in court,” wrote Bryce in December 2023, “the Osage tribe not only stands to collect millions of dollars in damages and the removal of the loathsome turbines, it also has handed Big Wind the biggest public relations debacle in its history.”

Leaving aside the profound insult against the property rights of the Osage Nation, what Enel has done with the land is an insult to common sense and environmental stewardship.

The Osage wind farm operated for seven years through 2022, and in its most productive year (2014) it generated 600 gigawatt-hours of electricity. At even that high-end rate of output, Enel’s turbines would need to spin for more than 53 years to match just a single year of carbon-free power production from the Palo Verde nuclear reactors, which use up only half as much landscape.

And in addition to being absurdly wasteful, this lopsided comparison is technologically impossible.

The Osage wind turbines will never last that long. Even Enel admits they will have only a “20 to 30-year lifespan.”

Damaged Wind Turbines

And that’s a generous estimate.

Enel’s Buffalo Dunes wind project in Kansas started generating electricity in December 2013. One of its 135 turbines lasted only a year and collapsed in December 2014.

Enel’s Fenner Wind Farm began operating in 2001. One of the 20 turbines lasted just eight years and collapsed in 2009. “That’s an unusual situation,” said an Enel spokesman to the local newspaper.

In October 2014 a New York television station reported a fire atop one of the Fenner turbines.

And even though the collapsed turbine tower from the 2009 Fenner incident was replaced, in 2016 a blade fell off of the replacement! This time, an Enel spokesperson had the audacity to tell local media it was an “extremely rare event in the industry.”

Enel’s Chisholm View II project in Oklahoma was the scene of more “rare” events. It went into service in 2016, and by May 2019 one of its turbine towers had collapsed. It was the second of two GE-constructed turbines to fail that spring. The other accident was at a New Mexico wind facility not affiliated with Enel.

“Local media accounts of both collapses reported strong winds in the vicinities,” reported ReCharge News, an industry website. Without the slightest acknowledgement of the irony, the ReCharge report also summarized recent academic literature on turbine failures: “Most failure incidents of wind turbine towers are due to a combination of factors, among which extreme wind is identified as the most common.”

Perhaps Enel’s communications department noticed the obvious bad optics, because in November 2020 they pushed back against the notion that their wind turbines can’t handle . . . the wind.

At issue was a viewer who had sent a video of a damaged turbine at Enel’s Aurora Wind Farm in North Dakota to a local news outlet. Whatever the problem was, it occurred pretty quickly because Aurora, one of Enel’s biggest wind projects, didn’t go fully online until the following year.

“The safety and durability of wind turbines in North Dakota are being questioned following an incident late last month in Williams County,” reported KX News.

“Wind turbines are designed to withstand extremely high wind gusts, and while we are still investigating the root cause of the incident, our preliminary indications are that wind speeds were not the instigating factor,” claimed Enel, in a statement to KX News.

KX News didn’t buy it:

But information obtained by KX News describes several errors believed to be made by the contractor while building the turbine that allowed it to spin out of control, resulting in the damage. That has caused concern about the durability of turbines in high winds.

Their skepticism was warranted. In July 2023, Reuters reported that wind turbine manufacturers had “raced to build bigger and more efficient turbines to keep up with rivals, without necessarily allowing time for quality checks.” The report revealed that GE Renewable Energy, Vestas, Siemens-Gamesa, and Nordex—four of the largest wind turbine makers—had each had increased sales but hemorrhaged money in 2022, losing a combined 5 billion euros, or $5.4 billion.

But Enel doesn’t suffer as much as its suppliers when a few turbines crash or burn, because the virtue signaling produced by wind machines is at least as valuable as the puny power output.

In the next installment, despite Enel’s virtue signaling, less than a quarter of its energy output came from wind and solar.

Ken Braun

Ken Braun is CRC’s senior investigative researcher and authors profiles for and the Capital Research magazine. He previously worked for several free market policy organizations, spent six…
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