(October 1, 2013) The press release on September 24, 2013, from the Attorney General’s (AG) office was headlined: “Attorney General recovers $17 million for Victims of Ponzi Scheme” and went on to describe how the money had been seized and sent to the American authorities with respect to a US orchestrated “Ponzi Scheme”.
The definition of “Ponzi Scheme” from the “Legal Dictionary” is: “A fraudulent investment plan in which the investments of later investors are used to pay earlier investors, giving the appearance that the investments of the initial participants dramatically increase in value in a short amount of time.”
In the case of Ontario’s Ministry of Energy those “investments of later investors” is the billions of dollars extracted from the pockets of approximately 4.4-million ratepayers spread throughout the Province of Ontario. In Ontario, however, the extraction of monies from “later investors” is considered legal under the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA) passed by the Liberal Government under Premier, Dalton McGuinty.
McGuinty, via the Energy Minister directed the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to contract with investors who would be willing to put solar panels on their roof or on the ground. The OPA complied and offered above market rates and investors flocked to the OPA submitting thousands of offers and they dutifully signed them up offering to pay up to 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour.
The OPA just released a list as of June 30, 2013, they refer to as; “Active FIT Contracts”. The list of approximately 1800 Feed-in Tariff (FIT) contracts don’t include the MicroFIT contracts but according to an OPA spokesperson include what the OPA refer to as “Capacity Allocation Exempt” (CAE) contracts. A separate undated list of the latter referenced as “Phase 2” has 800 contracts noted. The bulk of the two lists are “roof mounted” solar installations with a smattering of biogas, solar ground mounted, waterpower and a few others but about 85% are roof mounted solar contracts.
Scrolling through the lists one finds many familiar names such as; IKEA, Canadian Tire, Walmart, RBC, Toronto Hydro, Durham College, Powerstream, London Hydro, Loblaws, etc. etc. You also find hundreds of addresses and numbered companies that don’t identify either the “applicant” or the “supplier”. One would assume the applicant (Phase 2) or supplier (June 30, 2013, report) are one and the same but the carryover from the Phase 2 report to the OPA list switches the descriptive terminology. The OPA spokesperson told me that: “Projects on the March 31, 2010, CAE list that are not on the June 30, 2013, list of active FIT contracts were those that have either been terminated or were not accepted/executed. Those projects are not included in the June 30, 2013, total of 814 MW of solar in commercial operation.”
Investigating that premise allows you to determine that contracts on the Phase 2 list, as an example, in the name of “Canadian Tire” or one of the “Loblaws” trade names disappeared. On reviewing the addresses however a search reveals that both “AMP1” or “MOM Solar LP” are listed as “suppliers” for addresses identified as “Canadian Tire” stores. Canadian Tire, who appeared to have as many as 79 contracts (over 15 megawatts [MW]) on the Phase 2 list are suddenly at zero (0) on the June 30, 2013 list. If those 15 MW produced at 15% of capability they would generate almost $14 million in annual revenue at $700. per MW hour and $280 million over 20 years.
The two lists also disclose that many other retailers have taken advantage of the rates first offered for roof mounted solar over 10 kilowatts (kW) which was 71.3 cents per kWh (hour). As another example; Loblaws has been very aggressive with 74 contracts under the “Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstores, Zehrs, No Frills” monikers and another 136 under the name of “Fresh from the Sun Energy Inc.” from the OPA’s March 10, 2010 list. The latter were on the “Phase 2” report but the OPA listed only14 contracts and that name doesn’t even appear on the June 30, 2013 list. So what happened?
Loblaws and its iterations had contracts in excess of 20 megawatts (MW) of nameplate capacity. Those 20 MW of solar roof mounted could generate annual revenue for Loblaws of approximately $18 million per annum ($360 million over 20 years) at a generation rate of 15% of rated solar capacity at an average price of $700. per MWh. Partially reviewing the OPA June 30, 2013 list, we note Loblaws are down to 74 contracts with 17.4 MW of listed capacity. The question I posed to the OPA spokesperson asked why the name change on some of those early Loblaws contracts?
The response back was what we have come to expect and contradicted the earlier e-mail (above) from the OPA spokesperson:
“FIT contracts permit the supplier to assign the contract or apply to the OPA for a change of control. It is not unusual for FIT contracts to be assigned to another company, for ex., a subsidiary, or for a portion or all of the project to be sold to another party. Through these processes, the Supplier Legal Name would change, but the term, end date and financial terms of the contract remain the same, so there is no additional exposure for the ratepayer when these changes occur.
The contract details that the OPA can provide to a third party are subject to confidentiality provisions, which is included in Article 7 of the FIT contract, available on the FIT website. With respect to Canadian Tire and Loblaw contracts, you will need to contact those suppliers for specific details.”
The lists include schools, municipal arenas, community centres, hospitals, etc., but don’t include the Toronto District School Boards contracts for the 311 schools that will be outfitted with solar panels according to an article in the National Post on September 20, 2013. This will allow the TDSB to repair 32 school roofs but its unclear how much the Board’s partner “School top Solar LP” is retaining out of the approximately $550 per MW they will be paid for the rated capacity of 33 MW. Those 33 MW should generate almost $24 million per annum or $480 million over the 20 year term of the contract. This makes one wonder if the TDSB are poor negotiators or those school roofs cost millions each?
In reviewing the three OPA lists it is almost impossible to connect them because; as an example; the Fresh from the Sun Energy Inc. stores on the list fail to include full addresses and the June 30, 2013 list often does not even include an address under the multiple contacts awarded (or sold to) companies like MOM Solar LP or a supplier referred to as AMP1 (legal name) for which no information can be found!
Take the Money and Run:
As the Steve Miller Band’s big hit said “Take the Money and Run” and if I were a Loblaws or a Canadian Tire executive and wanted to reward shareholders (despite the admiration of Tyler Hamilton in the Toronto Star) I would be tempted to “flip” the contracts. By simply having those contracts Loblaws and Canadian Tire have a huge guaranteed cash flow they could easily sell to a third party like Moms Solar LP (backed and partially owned by Morgan Stanley) or the anonymous AMP1! By selling the contract they can add it to their revenue stream. A search of annual reports, for Canadian Tire and Loblaws comes up empty in respect to those contracts.
The retailers, municipalities, school boards, etc. who have obtained these contracts are either receiving a subsidy (private sector) or a hidden tax, for the benefit of the province (schools, colleges , hospitals, etc) and municipalities (community centres, local electricity distributors, arenas, etc.). Perhaps this is Premier Wynne’s reference to “revenue tools” means! All of the foregoing sell their generated electricity at prices up to 20 times the cost of power generated by OPG or Bruce Power and those same retailers, school boards, colleges, etc. buy back the power at the same (or lower) rates paid by 4.4 million residential ratepayers. Those subsidies/hidden taxes wind up in the Global Adjustment pot and those “later investors”, pay them for the next 20 years.
The “Ponzi Scheme” created by the GEA for just the “solar” portion of the GEA will be in excess of $1.3 billion each year for the next 20 years once the full contracted solar (approximately 2,000 MW) is hooked to the grid. The cost of the FIT contracted solar will add $300 per year to each ratepayer’s bill.
At $26 billion over the 20 year period of the contracts this must represent the largest “Ponzi Scheme” ever perpetrated in North America and the poor ratepayers didn’t even have the ability to opt out of being a “later investor”.
If the ratepayers of Ontario got the AG to declare the GEA a “Ponzi Scheme” and pushed for the recovery of the billions of dollars they have been forced to pay, Minister Gerretsen would have something to really brag about!
Parker Gallant is a retired bank executive and a former director of Energy Probe Research Foundation. As with all independent bloggers on this site, Parker’s views do not necessarily reflect those of Energy Probe.