Global warming: The Oxburgh Incident and the Italian Job + An offer he couldn't refuse

Thomas Fuller

The world of renewable energy, as with so many new initiatives in the past, is currently characterized by a lot of government money being eagerly sought by many sources--some of them not very clean.

When the University of East Anglia decided to investigate itself, they could have chosen from a wide variety of scientific or legal figures. They decided on Lord Oxburgh, despite questions about his independence. As chairman of a windfarm manufacturer, could he really impartially decide on fundamental questions of the probity of climate science?

Would Lord Oxburgh have been appointed to his position as head of the panel investigating Climategate if it had been known that his employer was a subsidiary controlled by an Italian company enmeshed in scandals involving Sicilian waste? Let me hasten to add that I am not making any accusations of either Lord Oxburgh or Falck Renewables, the company he chairs. But was he really the best choice for this inquiry?

Lord Oxburgh is chairman of Falck Renewables, a builder of windfarms with six projects in operation or under construction in the UK alone. Falck Renewables is a subsidiary of Falck Group, a Milan based company that has built windfarms in Calabria and Sicily that have been part of an anti-Mafia investigation. Some of the windfarms, including one near Corleone, were completed quite some time ago, but haven't been connected to the grid. However, generous EU subsidies were forthcoming nonetheless. One project in Minervino Murge was the subject of an anti Mafia investigation (link in Italian, but Google will translate) that led to several arrests.

Italian and EU subsidies for the building of wind farms and the world’s highest guaranteed rates, €180 ($240, £160) per kwh, for the electricity they produce have turned southern Italy into a highly attractive market exploited by organised crime.

As a 2009 story by the Financial Times put it, "Multinationals are starting to find out something that is well known to Italian investors: that concealed beneath Europe’s most generous system of incentives – supported by “green credits” that industrial polluters have to purchase – there exists a web of corruption and shady deals.

Rossana Interlandi, recently appointed head of Sicily’s environment department, explains that project developers – she calls them “speculators” – were also lured by the appeal of a law that obliges Italy’s national grid operator to pay wind farm ownerseven when they are not producing electricity."

The number of Italian cities with a windfarm nearby has doubled within a year, thanks to EU subsidies. It would be astonishing if the Mafia hadn't gotten involved. And nobody from Falck has been arrested, although Achille Colombo, its former head, has resigned, and news reports of questionable dealings with a Sicilian incinerator project that was cancelled have arisen. The deal, which was cancelled and is still under investigation, was worth an estimated € 4 billion.

The situation has deteriorated in Italy to the point that they are moving to residential solar to cut CO2 emissions, in large part to minimize Mafia involvement.

Wind energy has become big business and it's growing in a hurry. Lots of shady people are getting involved, in no small part because of government subsidies for both construction and feed in tariffs for green electricity.

Falck Group was in financial difficulties due to the cancellation of the big incinerator deal. Falck Renewables in the UK was developing wind deals in southern Italy that were generating important cash flow.

Just about the last thing they needed was news that wind energy wasn't crucial to the planet's survival. Just about the last thing they needed was news that the research unit that told the world that current warming was unprecedented in the past 1,000 years was probably wrong. The recession had hammered stock prices in green technology. The failure of COP15 in Copenhagen, the collapse of carbon pricing and various scandals about trading permits had not helped.

A quick investigation focussing on internal interviews and a review of papers selected (it seems) by a committee on which one of the targets of the investigation served, and pointedly did not review any of the papers that had been criticized by skeptics, left the CRU smelling like a 'slightly disorganized but committed' rose.

The reaction of major media sources and governments to the Oxburgh results show that his findings were more than welcome--they may well have been necessary to continue the momentum for widespread conversion to green energy.

I'll repeat here that I have no evidence linking Oxburgh or his company to the mafia--even honest companies in Italy can't get far away from the mafia and can be surprised when they are linked in an investigation. I have interviewed none of the principals in this story, which would be the first course of action for an investigative reporter, which I am not. I am an opinion commentator who happens to read Italian, having lived there for seven years.

But the pressure Lord Oxburgh's company was under due to general financial conditions and being enmeshed in legal difficulties in Italy make it inevitable that someone would raise the question of whether he could have been impartial.

More importantly, the flood of new government money, new deals and new partnerships for projects in faraway countries makes due diligence difficult, if not impossible. This is a Wild West frenzy of renewable building and carbon trading, and there have been scandals for years--and there will be more. What was the thinking behind choosing someone (even one so respected as Oxburgh) to sit in judgment on issues that affected his company's health--even survival? I'll repeat I'm not questioning Oxburgh's integrity--but could anyone from the renewable sector have escaped some kind of association of this sort? In 2009 alone, 19 were arrested in Spain in connection with corruption surrounding a wind farm, there was a scandal regarding recycled carbon trading permits in Hungary, a regulator in Maine accepted an ownership interest in a company he regulated and which he went on to lead, a Washington biologist is accused of steering wind farm funding to his non-profit, Canada is investigating lobbying violations by green lobbyists, the list literally goes on and on.

Could they not have found somebody else?

Global warming: The Oxburgh Inquiry was an offer he couldn't refuse.

1. The Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University has published science that was integral to the decision of the EU and the UK to implement immediately programs subsidizing the installiation of green energy generation systems.

2. Those subsidies amounted to approximately $50 billion U.S. dollars in 2008 alone.

3. Organised crime has already moved to profit from these subsidies, which appear to lack adequate controls to prevent misuse.

4. When the authorised leak of emails and documents resulted in the Climategate scandal of November 2009, it caused considerable havoc in stock market prices of green energy companies, especially when it was followed by Copenhagen, a cold winter, and scandal in carbon certificate trading.

5. East Anglia University commissioned an investigation into the practices of its research unit and asked Lord Oxburgh to chair the panel.

6. Lord Oxburgh is chairman of Falck Renewables, a manufacturer of windfarms and the UK subsidiary of The Falck Group, a Milan-based manufacturer.

7. A sister company of Oxburgh's Falck Renewables, Actelios, is publicly traded and had suffered serious falls in its stock price during the period of Climategate, etc.

8. Lord Oxburgh's company, its parent and more than one of its sister companies have had organised crime activities surrounding their acquisition of property and installation of green energy systems.

9. The green energy industry, organised crime investors, Falck Renewables and its parent and sister companies stood to benefit from an investigation the results of which did not overturn the science findings of CRU.

10. The investigation by Lord Oxburgh was perfunctory. The report was 5 pages. It interviewed no-one who was not employed by the University. It reviewed 11 papers that were not part of the Climategate controversy. Those papers were selected either by the University itself or a committee of the Royal Society on which Phil Jones, director of CRU, was a member.

Do I believe the 'mob directed the investigation?' Of course not. Do I believe that Lord Oxburgh had additional reasons to weigh the findings of his investigation in favor of the status quo? It's certainly possible. Do I think that having an underworld connection to renewable energy subsidies prejudices almost every decision made about renewable energy? Definitely. Do I believe East Anglia University chose the wrong person to chair its investigation? Absolutely.

When Lord Oxburgh was asked to chair the inquiry into the scientific practices at CRU, home of the Climategate emails, many sources questioned whether he would be able to be objective. This is because of his leadership of a company that builds windfarms in the UK and Europe. There may have been other reasons to question his ability to be objective. The sister company of Falck Renewables, the publicly traded Actelios, had lost half its value in the preceding months, following the Climategate scandal, the failure of Copenhagen climate talks and perceptions of a cold winter in Europe and America. Lord Oxburgh may have had a lot on the line, and may well have needed the verdict his panel produced.

But there may well be more. Much like the late 19th century produced plenty of sordid stories and crime in the development of the oil industry, there is a lot of organised crime rushing to get involved in renewable energy. We can either praise the mafia's newfound sense of ecological correctness or note the large amount of government subsidy being thrown around rather carelessly.

As with Friday's article, let me stress that nobody at Falck, and especially not Lord Oxburgh, has been implicated in this sorry mess. But there's a lot of evidence that private companies involved in renewable energy should not have their chairman pronouncing judgment on public science. Too much at stake.

Lord Oxburgh is chairman of Falck Renewables, a windarm manufacturer that is a subisidiary of the troubled Falck Group in Milan, Italy. The projects that Falck Renewables build seem to follow a pattern:

Their project in La Muela, Spain, was associated with the arrest of 18 people on organised crime issues.

"Powerful wind turbines churned the air above La Muela last week but the stir in this small Aragonese town was caused by the arrest of the mayor and 18 other people on charges that reveal a new phenomenon in Spain: eco-corruption."

And at Falck's windfarm at Buddusò - Alà dei Sardi: "Four people arrested, seven wind farms and 12 companies under sequestration, and 'that's the outcome of the operation' Gone With the Wind 'for which the magistrate court of Avellino has issued arrest warrants for Oreste Vigorito, 62 years Naples lawyer, administrator and president of IVPC Benevento Calcio; Vito Nicastro, 52 years of Alcamo, Ferdinand Renzulli, 42 years of Avellino, and Vincent Dongarra, 46 years of Enna. Another 11 people were investigated in various capacities for accountability in organized fraud for receiving government grants for the construction of wind farms. Nine of the seized companies are based in Avellino, the other 3 in Sicily."

As for Falck's windfarm at Minervino Murge, we reported on Friday, "the Anti-Mafia prosecutor in Trapani gave life operation "Aeolus", with 8 arrest warrants issued at the time of men linked to local clans, public administrators, municipal officials and entrepreneurs "for allowing the association called La Cosa Nostra mafia, and in particular the Mafia family Mazara del Vallo control of economic activities, permits, contracts and public services in the production of electricity through wind turbines and the exchange of vows political mafia. " identification of persons and companies involved in the investigation Sicilian revealed disturbing links with the construction of wind farms in the territory of Puglia: Minervino Murge, Spinazzola and Poggiorsini municipalities in whose territories some companies have shown interest and in some cases initiated installations without the necessary concessions."

As for their wind farm near Palermo, Petralia Sottana, what do "Puglia, Sicily, Mazara del Vallo-Minervino Murge have in common? Nothing but interest for wind power. Companies interested in plant wind turbines in Apulia are committed to the same plant in Sicily, the same involved in an investigation initiated by the hot anti-Mafia prosecutor in Trapani and actually called, "Aeolus." On 17 February, the Anti-Mafia prosecutor in Trapani gave life operation "Aeolus", with 8 arrest warrants issued at the time of men linked to local clans, public administrators, municipal officials and entrepreneurs "for allowing the association called La Cosa Nostra mafia, and in particular the Mafia family Mazara del Vallo control of economic activities, permits, contracts and public services in the production of electricity through wind turbines and the exchange of vows political mafia. "

The parent group of Oxburgh's Falck Renewables is the Falck Group of Milan. As with so many Italian businesses, it's a complicated maze of crossholdings and interlocked ownership that makes it almost impossible to decipher. However Falck's sister company Actelios was the target of an anti-Mafia investigation, as reported last week.

Falck's sister compani Platani Energia Ambiente was part of an anti-mafia investigation regarding a controversial land deal that lasted from 2002 to 2007 and involved the removal from office of the contract administrator, Gioacchino Genchi.

A company with so many controversial ties to scandals in renewable energy comes up with a verdict that provides needed breathing space for renewable energy companies in general, and his own and his sister companies to boot.

It was a most convenient finding, this exoneration of CRU.

As was mentioned during the recent inquiry by the UK House of Commons, Steve Mosher and I have written a book about the leaked emails that have caused so much controversy. The title is Climategate: The CRUtape Letters. It is available on Create Space here, Amazon here, Kindle here and Lulu here. One Amazon reviewer wrote, "Mosher and Fuller do a good job putting the ClimateGate documents in context, and the book is a riveting read. I received my copy yesterday, and find the book to be faithful to the climate war events that I have followed over a period of years. It reports actual email communications of a small group of paleoclimatologists and their roles in perhaps the biggest scientific hoax since Piltdown Man."




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