Text of “The Troubling Budweiser Ad on Tejon Ranch” Op-Ed

By Paul Gipe

Peddling green works. After watching Budweiser’s 2019 Superbowl commercial– the Clydesdales racing through wheat fields on Tejon Ranch, with wind turbines turning serenely in the background–I couldn’t help but think, “Maybe Bud isn’t so bad after all.”

At the same time, it was troubling. The ad raised a host of questions not easily answered. Not the least of which is: Why are there no wind turbines on Tejon Ranch, where part of the ad was filmed? The ad’s wind turbines were digitally added. The images were from an Italian-run wind farm in Oklahoma that sells electricity to Bud. That in itself raises the question: Why couldn’t the “King of Beers” just build their own wind farm rather than buy “green” electricity from someone else’s? What’s the point of being king if you can’t build your own wind farm?

German brand Warsteiner, the “Queen of Beers,” operates real wind turbines, not virtual ones, at its Paderborn plant. They installed their own wind turbines and make their own green electricity, as well as beer. The Germans can show Bud a thing or two about beer–and about wind energy.

And why is Bud doing this now? Brewers in the US, such as Colorado’s New Belgium (the brewers of Fat Tire), have been buying green electricity for two decades. Bud could have made a difference, when wind was more expensive. Of course, wind is dirt-cheap now. That might have something to do with it. Is Bud’s green only a Belgian centime deep?

However, what raises the ad from old-fashioned greenwashing to what an industry veteran calls “green porn” is Tejon Ranch’s connection to the ad. It will take much more than digital wind turbines to green its image.

Tejon has always been about its real-estate potential, not ranching. Its stock price, and thus the value of the company, hinges on whether investors believe it can bring big real estate projects to fruition.

In 1989 Tejon Ranch’s vision of its future real-estate development was threatened, or so it thought. That’s when it and its allies decided to kill a wind energy project. The proposed wind farm wasn’t even destined for Tejon’s land but for land within the viewshed of the McMansions it planned.

The Ranch skillfully elevated a dispute between two real-estate developers, itself and a Tehachapi wind company, to a “debate” over the acceptability of wind energy. But there never was a real debate. It was more like the Salem witch trials, with pitchfork-carrying locals ready to burn the wind company at the stake with torches provided by, yes, Tejon Ranch.

To assure success, Tejon brought in a high-powered Hollywood PR firm and hired a bevy of “consultants.” They paid good money, and they got results. The wind project went down in flames and the story of how the little people rose up and toppled a corporate titan–the wind company, not Tejon Ranch–went wordwide. Quotes from that fight still echo today when reactionary opponents try to stop modern wind farms.

One lone LA County supervisor bravely told the wind project’s opponents that this was not a victory for the environment. He said there were other interests at play– ones that had cynically wrapped themselves in a green flag. He warned that Tejon Ranch would come before them some day with an equally massive, if not more destructive, project and that he expected every one of them to return. He was prescient.

Tejon now plans to plant nearly 60,000 people in the middle of those highly flammable fields popularized by Bud. But when Tejon brought its massive Centennial project before the supervisors, none of those clamoring for the hide of the wind company three decades before were anywhere to be seen.

Bud’s ad may be a sign of the times. Green is good. Wind is good. Maybe it signals that Tejon has had a “road to Damascus conversion” and now embraces wind energy. One can hope.

The state would be better served if Tejon planted wind turbines–real wind turbines–instead of adding the sprawl of more cookie-cutter houses.

Paul Gipe is the author of Wind Energy for the Rest of Us and a member of the California Native Plant Society.