Green Watch

Italian Energy Giant Invades America: Virtue Signaling

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

Virtue Signaling

Enel’s corporate homepage gives away this secret. The vision statement at the top reads: “Open Power for a brighter future: We empower sustainable progress.” The website’s featured headlines contain words such as “sustainable,” “renewable,” “equality,” and “circular economy.” Images of solar panels, wind turbines, bicycles, and even bees adorn the page.

This is a misleading image of what the company does. Enel reported generating 227.8 TWh of electricity worldwide in 2022, but 76 percent of it was produced from energy systems other than wind, solar, bees, bicycles, and equality.

The biggest single source, at 23.9 percent of total output, was combined-cycle gas turbine power plants, which generally burn natural gas very cleanly and efficiently. Enel’s coal fired power stations and those that burn other “oil & gas” fuels added an additional 15.1 percent.

Put together, those much-maligned hydrocarbons provided 39 percent of Enel’s total 2022 electricity production. A combined 34.3 percent more came from hydroelectric dams and nuclear power, both carbon-free energy sources.

There’s a big difference between the wind turbines and solar panels Enel promotes to the public and what the electric utility must really do to keep the public’s power flowing. Only 24 percent of its 2022 energy output was from wind and solar.

Enel’s home page doesn’t show pictures or even references to natural gas wellheads, coal mines, hydro dams, or nuclear fuel rods that produce the overwhelming majority of its electricity. Yet nuclear power and hydro dams generated 43 percent more carbon-free energy than Enel’s wind and solar in 2022, and the firm’s natural gas turbines produced more energy than the wind turbines.

But wind turbines spin out what gas turbines cannot: virtue signaling.

As one example, since 2021 Enel has claimed that Anheuser-Busch brews “all its products using 100% renewable energy” due to a “Virtual Power Purchase Agreement” whereby the brewer buys electricity produced at Enel’s Thunder Ranch wind facility in Oklahoma.

“We have the opportunity to play a leading role in the battle against climate change by purchasing energy in a more sustainable way,” crowed the CEO of AB InBev when the Thunder Ranch deal was announced in 2017. AB InBev is the parent company of Anheuser Busch.

In February 2019, AB InBev featured the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales in a Super Bowl commercial promoting beer supposedly brewed with wind.

The beverage conglomerate also donated nearly a week of electricity, supposedly for the city where the game was to be played. Enel announced that this “ensured that 100% of the electricity used to power Atlanta the week of the Big Game was sourced from clean, renewable energy from the Budweiser Wind Farm at Thunder Ranch.”

More than 860 miles separate Thunder Ranch’s Oklahoma wind turbines from Atlanta, Georgia. Similar distances and more stand between the turbines and Anheuser Busch’s breweries in various states, including California and New Hampshire. Those breweries, and the city of Atlanta, also need electricity when they need it, whether or not the wind blows in Oklahoma.

How Does It Get There?

It doesn’t, according to the fine print from Enel that explains its power purchase agreements: “A Virtual PPA is a flexible, customizable, multi-year bilateral renewable energy contract, powered by renewable energy produced by Enel Green Power, that does not involve the physical delivery of energy from the vendor to the customer, who thus does not need to change supplier.” [emphasis added]

The continental U.S. is divided into more than a dozen interconnected electrical grids, a map of which shows Oklahoma and Atlanta on totally different systems that aren’t even contiguous to one another.

So, the weather-dependent power AB InBev purchases from Enel in Oklahoma doesn’t get used to brew much beer, perhaps not even any beer at all. Instead, they likely and logically use the energy available wherever their breweries are located.

In 2022, 60.2 percent of total U.S. electricity was generated from either natural gas (39.8 percent), coal (19.5 percent) or petroleum (0.9 percent). And 86.4 percent was from sources other than wind and solar. This is a crude, but reasonable approximation of fuels that are probably used to brew Budweisers.

In the next installment, Enel profits from providing expensive electricity.

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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