Enron Capitalized on Clinton Alternative Energy Plans

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

(Editor's Note: This is the final in a series of reports detailing some of the Enron Corporation's ties to the Clinton Administration between 1992 and 2000.)

(CNSNews.com) - Slightly more than a year into his administration, then-President Bill Clinton laid down a marker on what his administration commonly referred to as "renewable energy sources."

While so-called 'green energy sources' had been part of Clinton's agenda since before the election of 1992, the president's commitment to this strategy was cemented with his signing of Executive Order 12902 on March 8, 1994.

Clinton's order specified that renewable energy sources be defined as "agriculture and urban waste, geothermal energy, solar energy, and wind energy."

Among the requirements of the order was one instructing the federal government to "begin implementing cost-effective recommendations for installation of energy efficiency, water conservation, and renewable energy technologies," for most federal facilities.

This commitment was reinforced five years later, with Executive Order 13123, signed by Clinton on June 3, 1999.

That order stipulated, among other things, that federal agencies "shall use off-grid generation systems, including solar hot water, solar electric, solar outdoor lighting, small wind turbines, fuel cells, and other off-grid alternatives, where such systems are life-cycle cost-effective and offer benefits including energy efficiency, pollution prevention, source energy reductions, avoided infrastructure costs, or expedited service."

These two executive orders and other Clinton administration initiatives laid the groundwork for the Enron Corporation to profit at the expense of American taxpayers, according to Enron documents obtained by CNSNews.com and authenticated by the company.

Moving the Clinton Administration Agenda

In 1994, the same year Clinton signed Executive Order 12902, the Department of Energy awarded $1 million to a company called the Central and South West Services, Inc. for a wind turbine plant near Fort Davis Texas. Central and South West Services then hired a California firm, Zond Systems, Inc., to install the 12 wind turbines, which it did in 1996. Enron benefited indirectly from the deal when it acquired Zond Systems, Inc. in 1997.

Enron became a more direct beneficiary of the administration's alternative energy program and the tax money funding it. The Enron Wind Corp., located near Lake Benton, Minn., developed wind turbines in cooperation with the Department of Energy (DOE) during the Clinton administration.

Then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson announced in a Sept. 24, 1998 statement on the dedication of the Minnesota facility that the administration was "excited that Enron developed this technology with technical contributions made by the department, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with Enron for the development of their next generation wind turbine."

The DOE statement also pointed out that its wind power program "has played a key role in supporting Enron Wind Corp. as they have become the premier wind turbine company in the United States."

That year, the Energy Department also touted its work with Enron "to develop a 1,000 (kilowatt) wind turbine, which will greatly enhance the competitiveness of wind energy and open up large markets in the Midwest," supporting the company's research and development efforts.

The following year, Zond Energy Systems partnered with the DOE to develop a wind power technology facility in Storm Lake, Iowa.

A Sept. 17, 1999 press release by the DOE boasts of the "public-private partnership" between Zond and the department.

Richardson said at the time, "The turbines at Storm Lake will allow us to better utilize the vast resource of wind power." The secretary also praised the collaboration by noting that is was "producing tangible results that will support continued development of wind technologies..."

The Department of Energy's website noted on Nov. 3, 2000 that this single federal agency had provided "contributions to the programs that supported Zond's 750-kW turbine since 1994 total nearly $12 million."

Award Winning Enron 'Protects' Shareholders

In 1998, Enron received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Protection Award. In a letter to Terry Thorn, Enron's Senior Vice President of Environmental and Government Relations, Virginia Lee, the EPA's Director of Climate Protection Awards, wrote that the honor was "in recognition of exemplary efforts and achievements in protecting global climate."

A year later, the government agreed to give the award winning Enron $200 million worth of loan guarantees to fund a natural gas pipeline from Bolivia to Brazil.

The funding through the federal Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) was part of the $570 million project that included a 480-megawatt power plant in Cuiaba, Brazil.

Enron spokeswoman Kelly Kimberly told the Houston Chronicle in 1999 that "We are very pleased that OPIC has voted in favor of the Cuiaba project."

Enron's history of well placed friends and overall political acumen helped the corporation mitigate financial risks and in September of 2000, it received the first-ever political risk insurance policy payout in the history of the World Bank.

The $15 million payment was a result of the cancellation of an Enron power project by the Indonesian government in 1997 before construction had begun.

"This shows that the system really works," said Enron's spokesman John Ambler to Bloomberg News service in September 2000. He added, "It's precisely the reason we purchased the policy in the first place, to protect our shareholders."

A Parting Shot

The relationship between Enron and the Clinton administration was not limited to corporate lobbyists and government bureaucrats and functionaries.

In a personal letter from Clinton to Enron chief Kenneth Lay dated Feb. 25, 2000, Clinton wrote how he was "pleased you were able to attend the reception following my address to the World Economic Forum in Davos."

Clinton took the opportunity to explain to Lay that he believed "that open markets and rules-based trade are the best ways to lift living standards, reduce environmental destruction, and build shared prosperity."

The former president also shared with Lay his views on globalization and ways to lift living standards.

Clinton's letter began with the typewritten salutation "Dear Kenneth," which was crossed out and the shorter moniker "Ken" handwritten over the type.

It concluded simply, "Sincerely, Bill."

Part Two: Enron: Courting Clinton and the Environmental Movement

Part One: Enron and the Clinton Administration: Ties That Bind

E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.