Sadly, one sign of a maturing industry is that the Mafia start “investing” into the business. Tony Soprano, Don Corleone, nor any of the Goodfellas ever showed any interest in wind, but now renewable energy advocates have to deal with the headache, albeit a small one, with which the rest of the business world sometimes deals: Italian “eco Mafia” groups have found their way into the wind power industry.

And why wouldn't they poke their noses there? The European Union has set ambitous goals that could reduce its collective energy consumption 20%, while procuring 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. That 20-20-2020 vision has sent government officials and business leaders scrambling across the continent. Solar panel installations have risen across SpainSweden launched the world's first dimethyl ether (DME) vehicle fuel plant, and even body heat has been probed as an option in Paris. Italy has often been seen as a laggard in the race for independence from fossil fuels, but its government, despite changing prime ministers as quickly as its football players writhe in fake pain during a football match, has increased the boot's investment in clean energy. The results are not always happy ones, especially in Sicily, where locals are furious as their landscape looks less like the Mediterranean and more like the Coachella Valley or Holland.

Wind power has become one of the more polarizing renewable energy sectors. Fair or not, sometimes the industry comes across as a bully; and locals sometimes feel as if they are ignored while turbines sprout out of the ground, marring landscapes from Oregon to Antia, Greece. Others ensnared in the debate counter that those who howl loudest are the ones who were passed over for the lucrative land leases. But Sicilians, who for years have been weary of the crime syndicates who often dominate commerce, are voicing their opinions even louder. So far, Sicily is home to 30 wind farms, with another 60 underway. And locals are upset that roads are leftunrepaired while giant turbines hover over the island's windswept hills—with mafiosos and politicans pocketing the profits. Some scofflaws have been arrested for bribing local officials with cash and chic cars, and last fall, 15 people were arrested in a scam involving the pilfering of 30 million in EU funds. Some installations have reported dubious wattage generation claims. Meanwhile, Italy pays the highest hourly rate per wind-generated kilowatt in the world: 180 euros. The arrest of Italy's head of its National Wind Energy Association surely does not help on the industry's image.

In the broad picture, the amount of corruption in the renewable energy sector is relatively small, and such problems are not confined to Italy. Those who oppose subsidies for renewable energy projects and their partner organizations funded by energy companies will use this Sicilian episode as a strawman argument to bellow against any progress on the behalf of clean energy. The truth is that most people working in the oil industry are evil and behind nefarious sabotage; and renewable energy firms are hardly monolithic when it comes to lining their pockets with government money. Transparency and accountability are key; so is the engagement of the local community, who has a right to be heard.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.