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CNBC Interview with Enel CEO, Francesco Starace, from the World Economic Forum 2019


Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Francesco Starace, Enel CEO, and CNBC's Steve Sedgwick and Geoff Cutmore.

SS: Italian utility, Enel, meanwhile, has invested in Brazil over the course of the last year, and is looking for further opportunities in the Brazilian renewable market. Delighted to welcome to the show Francesco Starace, who is the CEO of Enel, and joins us now. Francesco, good morning to you.

FS: Good morning, good morning.

SS: We've seen a peer Italian utility, Telecom Italia, having such travails, and such problems, domestically, and we'll leave their boardroom disputes aside for the moment, but in terms of you, which is, of course, a huge Italian utility, investing overseas, rather than Italian opportunities, does that say a lot about the state of the world?

FS: Well, we've been investing outside of Italy since now more than ten years, so it's not something that we're doing just right off the bat but we have been going back investing in Italy, as recently as two years from now, and we-, we have, in front of us, a three-year cycle in which we are going to invest in Italy about twice the amount of money we invested the three years that just ended. So it's just a question of what opportunities are there in the world, and Italy is part of the world, it's not a larger part of the world than, for example, Brazil, as you mentioned-,

SS: Sure.

FS: But there is a big opportunity for digital transformation networks now in the country, so we're taking that opportunity.

GC: We talk a lot about political risk, and I just want to set Italy aside for one moment, but political risk in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro is a populist-,

FS: Mm-hm.

GC: Occasionally he's made very extreme remarks. Do you feel comfortable with your investment there, and, at this point, are you inclined to put any more money to work in that country?

FS: We-, we knew that there was going to be a change, we've seen Brazil going through this institutional and political crisis in the last three years, so I think it's good that this is over, and I think the market, as you see, more or less thinks that. We think Jair Bolsonaro has a big chance to reform the country, then, you know, the judgment, he's a-, he's a populist, he's not a populist, I think it's something that doesn't really, you know, interest us that much. His agenda, his reform agenda, he's a populist or not populist, we don't care. It's a reform agenda, we think it's good for the country, the country needs it. Let's not forget, Brazil is an incredibly rich part of the world, the development in this country is mindboggling, and we think the timing of our investments in the past years has been tremendous, so we are really happy. We are going to continue investing in renewable generation, in the next years. There is a big opportunity here.

SS: There's lots of questions we have for you, but there's one thing you want to touch upon, it's something you feel very passionate about, and that's sustainability and climate, as well.

FS: Mm-hm.

SS: So, has that fallen down the agenda? There's lots of other big issues here in Davos, including looking at itself, and saying, 'Well, what is it getting right and what is it getting wrong?' but you think sustainability and climate's still up there?

FS: I think that, uh, climate is a problem, and because we've been saying it so long, it doesn't mean it's going away. It's going to be there for a long time, until we do something to fix it. We believe that technology is helping, in this case, I mean, the-, the transformation that is taking place in the energy sector, and in other industrial sectors, helps, for economic reasons, it's not because environmentalists are pushing that, it's just the economics that are driving it. However, this can accelerate, it can be positive, or it can slow down, which could be negative, if we don't have a sustainable approach to it. So, if we leave people behind, if we don't include those that might perceive to be on the losing side, this might slow down this change. So that's why we believe sustainability is so important. It helps speed up this fight against climate change.

SS: Francesco, I'm afraid it's short and sweet, but always a pleasure seeing you, sir, thank you very much indeed-,

FS: Thank you.

SS: For joining us. Francesco Starace, who is the CEO of Enel, and also a civil servant, so we have to be-, he has to be careful what he says about the Italian government, as well, of course.