The latest in corporate virtue signaling comes courtesy of Budweiser with its Super Bowl ad featuring Bob Dylan, a dog, the iconic Clydesdales, and, yes, wind turbines. The message of the piece is clear: We’re doing our part to better the planet and so can you …by downing a few.
Budweiser’s wind play centers on two 15-year power contracts signed by parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) to acquire wind energy from projects in north-central Oklahoma (Thunder Ranch) and Mexico (the "Eolic Industrial Park of Renewable Energy" or PIER IV). The company’s goal is to reach 100% renewables by 2025.
The ad roll-out triggered a bevy of positive press for the global brewer, but for Angie Slaughter, VP of Sustainability, full credit belongs to her Bud buyers. “Our consumers,” she says, “are…educated on these topics. They’re informed, they have high expectations on companies concerning the products we make.”
Really? Exactly how informed? We decided to check a few facts for ourselves.
Thunder Ranch: Eagle Killer in Oklahoma
Italian utility giant, Enel, energized the 298 MW Thunder Ranch facility in December 2017. Its one hundred-and-twenty, 500-foot tall turbines span 136 square miles (87,015 acres) in a near-linear east-west array smack in the migratory path of the federally endangered Whooping Crane.
Each 3-bladed rotor assembly sweeps an airspace equal in size to two football fields, posing a collision risk for any bird (or bat) flying through. But that’s not all.
Thunder Ranch is located in rich Bald Eagle habitat bounded on three sides by rivers. The project site includes 463 linear miles of river tributaries, acres of wetlands and freshwater ponds, and numerous active eagle nests.
How do we know this?
Because it's detailed by Enel in its recent application seeking federal permission to destroy four dozen Bald Eagles. The request will likely be granted. US federal agencies have shown a tendency to put wind energy development ahead of national wildlife concerns. (For examples, see here, here and here).
There’s still time for the public to object. Any bets whether Ms. Slaughter and her informed Bud consumers will step-up?
PIER IV: A crime against human rights and nature in Mexico
Specifics regarding AB InBev’s Mexico wind purchase are less known since most of the news appears in Spanish-speaking media. But what we do know should alarm any Bud drinker, and a few planet-conscious corporate execs.
The 84-turbine, PIER IV facility (220.5 MW) under construction by international mega-corporation, Iberdrola, is dubbed ‘Proyecto de Muerte’ or Death Project by Mexican locals for good reason.
At a public forum in April, communities impacted by the project challenged Iberdrola’s taking of communal lands (ejídos) without consultation, proper permission, or compensation. Farmers, (ejidatarios) complained they’ve been refused access to the land and their rights to cultivate or build in the area abrogated for the next 30 years without “prior, free and informed consultation.”
They fear a lack of environmental studies examining how the project will impact them and their livelihoods.
In May, Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources reported that the project produced irreversible environmental damage spanning over 4,438 hectares (11,000 acres) resulting in the substantial loss of original forest value.
To mitigate for some of the damage, especially near the sensitive Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve, Iberdrola reportedly “relocated more than 85,000 specimens of 40 species of flora and 250 animals of 21 species.” No information is available regarding the quality and condition of the plants and wildlife moved, where they were moved to, or whether Iberdrola paid any penalty for the damage.
This is not the first time Iberdrola inflamed Mexican residents over its wind power pursuits. The company faced similar criticisms a few years back for failing to consult with local communities, deceptive land lease practices, not paying land rents or paying meaningless sums, environmental abuses, and misleading claims of economic benefit.
A legal challenge to PIER IV is under consideration and could prove successful. In 2018, the Mexican Supreme Court halted construction of a wind project by another developer for nearly identical violations.
Anheuser-Busch’s blind move
AB InBev’s public statements regarding its transition to wind power demonstrate a narrow mindset fixated on reducing carbon, with no evidence the company ever considered, or even cared to know the damaging consequences of its climate policy. Why should they? If hosts of environmental groups and progressive politicians are willing to vouch for wind power, why buck the trend?
But ignorance is no excuse. AB InBev and Ms. Slaughter should know better.
It’s now time for Anheuser-Busch to shed its superficial ‘green’ veneer and take corrective action to reverse the harms its wind purchases have caused. This includes publicly abandoning the ‘100% renewable energy’ goal which, if continued, is certain to bring more, and greater international destruction.
 The US Fish and Wildlife Service public comment period closes on August 13, 2019. See: https://www.fws.gov/southwest/migratorybirds/NEPAreviews.html