Green Energy Chronicles
John's newest update on graft, corruption and waste in the energy sector.
Traditionally the mafia controls operations in gambling, prostitution, protection, extortion, and loan-sharking, yet recent evidence shows that they might actually be adding renewable energy to that list.
Italian police have recently discovered links between the Sicilian crime families known as the Cosa Nostra, and wind and solar power companies in the area. Law enforcement officers have taken around a dozen crime bosses off to jail, along with corrupt officials and company executives; they have also seized around 30 percent of Sicily’s wind farms, and have frozen more than $2 billion worth of assets.
Back in 2010 a similar police operation saw the seizure of over 40 companies, land, buildings, factories, bank accounts, stocks, cars, and yachts from the Sicilian business man Vito Nicastri, also known as the ‘Lord of the Wind’ due to his investments in wind farms and solar panel factories.
It is likely that the Mafia has been attracted to renewable energy for several reasons; Sicily is a sunny, windy island that offers great alternative energy opportunities; much like Germany and Spain, Italy has been awarding generous subsidies to try and encourage the development of renewable energy projects; and also, the renewable energy industry offers a legitimate business which is likely to be around for many years and can provide a good front for the family.
Other renewable energy projects in Sardinia and Apulia are also being investigated for their connection to known crime families.
Jack Lew, the White House nominee for Treasury secretary, says President Obama’s second-term vow to confront climate change will not lead to proposals to tax carbon dioxide emissions.
“The administration has not proposed a carbon tax, nor is it planning to do so,” Lew said in written responses to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on Lew’s nomination Tuesday.
Carbon taxes or fees are generating new interest among climate advocates and some liberal lawmakers, especially amid debates about how to curb the deficit and overhaul the tax code. Lew’s answer is the latest of several Obama administration pledges not to propose a carbon tax. “We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in mid-November.
Meanwhile, local regulatory frameworks can also create significant risks for investors. In Italy, risk arises from lengthy and bureaucratic regulatory and authorization procedures, as well as from divergent clean technology policies at the national, regional, and local levels. These all create delays in obtaining licenses and putting plants into operation. This has led in the south of the country, where solar and wind plants are concentrated, to the rise of intermediaries who claim to be able to obtain all the necessary authorizations for investors and to sell them what are essentially turnkey projects. Clearly, this heightens the risk to investors of becoming involved in corruption or even of infiltration by organized crime. Several factors make the renewable energy sector particularly attractive to organized crime.
[Note: this is a MUST READ paper.]
In this paper we use the dataset on criminal activity constructed by Gennaioli C. and Onorato M. for their project on organized crime joint with Perotti R. and Tabellini G. We are grateful to them for sharing the data.
Governor Deval Patrick's administration proposed several changes to state environmental-protection laws yesterday that could help speed construction of offshore wind-power farms, including the controversy-plagued Cape Wind project that Patrick strongly backs.
The Department of Environmental Protection formally unveiled several changes to the state's Chapter 91 waterways protection laws, which could take effect as soon as April after a public comment period that ends Jan. 17. One major change would be to declare cables conveying power from offshore renewable-energy projects - including wind farms and hydroelectric generating units - to be water-dependent. That designation would get those projects speedier, more favorable consideration by department regulators, who are required by Chapter 91 to apply heavier scrutiny to nonwater-dependent projects in protected waterfront and river areas.
"The governor has made it an environmental priority to increase renewable energy, and the most important piece of these changes would make the regulations consistent with the administration's support for renewable energy, by allowing renewable energy from offshore to connect to the grid onshore," said Ed Coletta, a department spokesman.
Besides the 130-turbine Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, other proposals the changes could help include construction mogul Jay Cashman's plan for a 120-turbine wind farm in Buzzards Bay off Dartmouth and Fairhaven, and the Hull Municipal Light Department's proposed wind farm.
The announcement was made a month after Patrick's administration supported House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's inclusion of a measure in the House's green-energy bill. The measure exempts Cape Wind and the Cashman project from regulatory hurdles in the state's Ocean Sanctuaries Act, which limits or bans development in most coastal waters.
Though former governor Mitt Romney relentlessly opposed Cape Wind, Patrick and his energy and environmental affairs secretary, Ian A. Bowles, have called the project crucial to meeting state goals for renewable energy and helping to market Massachusetts worldwide as being friendly to renewable energy companies.
Mark Rodgers, a Cape Wind Associates spokesman, said yesterday that his company had not yet seen the proposed changes but said they sounded like "a step in the right direction from our viewpoint." The current designation of offshore wind farms as nonwater-dependent projects, Rodgers said, "doesn't make it impossible, but it adds another layer, and it never struck us as a policy that makes sense."
Rodgers said offshore wind farms are clearly water-dependent because it is their location in the open ocean - where winds are much steadier and stronger than on land - that makes them feasible for generating electricity.
Officials from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has been battling Cape Wind for six years, and the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group backing Cape Wind, declined to comment.
Last month, Cape Wind angered its foes by asking the state Energy Facilities Siting Board to use its unique authority to approve the project by preempting eight different state and local permits - including the DEP waterways permit. This move came after the Cape Cod Commission voted against approving transmission lines connecting Cape Wind to the regional power grid in Yarmouth.
More on Deval Patrick winning the greenest governor award
Business experts say that energy company First Wind was within its rights to amend an SEC filing last week to declare that it did not, as the company had previously stated in an earlier filing, award Public Utilities Commission Chairman Kurt Adams an ownership interest while he was on the state payroll, a possible violation of state law.
But one expert says that the amendment, which came after the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting published details of the grant to Adams, could itself raise questions with SEC regulators.
“The SEC is fairly liberal in permitting parties to amend their disclosure document,” says securities law expert Manning G. Warren III, of the Louis S. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. But the amended filing, says Warren, “suggests that the company is acknowledging a rather significant error in terms of granting him those restricted stocks while he was a public servant.”
First Wind is in the process of filing disclosure documents – called an “S1” — with the SEC prior to a public offering of stock to raise money for the company.
Report Refers to project as part of a pattern of “dysfunction, negligence and mismanagement.”
Just a day after Angus King announced he was divesting his stake in his wind energy company, a Congressional Oversight Committee has called into question the basis for a $102 million loan guarantee granted to King’s Record Hill Wind project.
The U.S House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform yesterday released an extensive report on questionable funding for projects authorized through the U.S. Department of Energy. The report, titled “The Department of Energy’s Disastrous Management of Loan Guarantee Programs”, reveals that the Record Hill project received a loan guarantee based on “questionable reasoning” by King’s company.
Angus King relationship map. Note: This does not include (strangely) his relationship with his wind efforts or Jay Cashman at Patriot Renewables. There will more on that in upcoming articles.
Nature of Complaint
This is an Antitrust Complaint alleging that an International Cartel is engaged in Market Allocation, Price Fixing and Bid Rigging in Windfarm Developments in New York and Vermont, as well as other states across the nation. This Complaint was submitted by 94concerned citizens via email to the U.S. Department of Justice, Anti-Trust Division onApril 25, 2007.
Summary of Complaint
A number of foreign companies, along with at least one domestic firm, have conspired to eliminate competition in the newly emerging domestic wind energy industry. Through a maze of ad hoc LLC’s, partnerships, affiliations, cross-ownerships, strategic alliances,memoranda of understanding, joint ventures, and associations these entities have allocated the market geographically and effectively prohibited any manner of competition for highly profitable business ventures. The end result of this collusion is that thousands of landowners and hundreds of municipalities have been denied substantial monetary gains that would otherwise be available in a free and competitive market. Due to a plethora of subsidies, incentives, and tax breaks the wind energy developments are highly profitable and virtually all of the earnings are funneled abroad to the foreign owners and investors.
If you represent U.S. businesses and want to scale back an anti-corruption law, what do you do? Hire the nation’s former top law enforcement official.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has recruited former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to press its case for reining in an American law that bans bribery overseas — and for softening the Obama administration’s aggressive enforcement of it. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it a crime for U.S. companies to pay bribes or offer any “thing of value” to a foreign official to advance the corporation’s interest.
Many advocates for business say enforcement of that law has been too strict, injuring America’s ability to win in a global economy. They also cite lengthy investigations and hefty legal fees over transactions that wouldn’t qualify as traditional bribes, such as giving money to non-government officials, buying dinner for business contacts or even paying for their taxi rides.
Enter Mukasey, a former federal judge whom President George W. Bush brought in to clean up a scandal-tarnished Justice Department in 2007. After leaving the Justice Department, Mukasey returned to New York, joined the firm of Debevoise & Plimpton and began taking on corporate clients, including the Chamber and News Corp.
“The law itself has a couple of problems with it,” Mukasey told POLITICO. He said the business community mainly wants the wording clarified. “In some countries, enterprises are state-owned, so everybody’s a foreign official. You take somebody out to dinner that’s intended to get you a competitive benefit and, boom: You get an investigation.”
To handle continued growth, Kyle-based energy storage company Xtreme Power Inc. is restructuring its top leadership, with its co-founder and CEO moving to a strategic planning role.
The company — which makes energy storage and power management systems for utilities, wind farms and manufacturing companies — saw revenues double in 2011 and expects to see similar growth in the coming year, said Carlos Coe, who will step aside as CEO to become chairman of the board and oversee the company's global growth. Alan Gotcher will be promoted from chief technology officer to president and CEO.
"This allows me to take a step out of the day-to-day (operations) and focus entirely on the growth mode of the company." Much of that growth is expected overseas, particularly in China, which is installing "an amazing amount of wind power every year," and officials need assistance moving that energy onto their power grids, Coe said.
It was a first of it's kind technology - that went up in smoke. Seven months after they started spinning, the Kahuku wind mills stopped because of a fire. The fact that they're sitting idle is having an ripple effect that reaches your electric bill.
For seven months they were spinning in the wind."First seven months of operation it put about 52k megawatts of energy into the system," said Hawaiian Electric Company spokesperson Darren Pai. A productive project - capable of powering 7,800 homes. But these last seven months have been a different story.
Since August, the 12 turbines at Kahuku are at a standstill after a fire inside the facility's battery storage system shut the wind farm down. Turns out it was the third blaze to break-out inside the building.
"And those we did an extensive investigation and determined the cause of those that was related to the capacitors in the converters," said Wren Wescoatt of First Wind. "We took several steps to remedy that and the new investigation looked into that as one of the possibilities but hasn't yet determined what the cause of the final fire was."
Warning that a carbon tax of $10 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions could cause a GDP loss of more than $600 billion, the Economic Survey says the way forward for domestic environment financing must come from a mix of market mechanisms, fiscal instruments and regulatory interventions.
Citing the results of preliminary modelling studies by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Survey argues that “relying solely on carbon taxes and subsidy may not be the most viable policy option.” It also discusses the establishment of a National Green Fund to finance environmental protection, but only mentions international sources to fill the coffers of the Fund.
The models projected four different carbon tax scenarios for a 20-year period between 2010-11 and 2030-31. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, an economy-wide tax on carbon emissions at the rate of $80 per tonne would lead to an undiscounted cumulative GDP loss of more than $4 trillion. But even a modest revenue-neutral $10 per tonne tax would lead to losses of $632 billion at 2005 prices, said the studies.
For example, an ALEC task force member who chairs the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee wants “a meaningful review” of the state’s efficiency and renewable standards.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, outlined in a Feb. 1 memo a list of questions that he plans to seek answers to in a series of legislative hearings this spring.
Among them: whether to freeze the state’s efficiency standard, whether to revise the “cost cap” financial-burden threshold for exempting utilities, and whether to establish a “more accurate and transparent” way of comparing costs of electricity sources.
The legislator’s final question reveals the scope of what’s on the table in his view: what should be done about existing contracts “in the event that the current EE/RPS benchmarks are significantly altered or abolished”?
A carbon tax will come into effect from 2015, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced on Wednesday." Government proposes to price carbon by way of a carbon tax, at the rate of R120 per ton of CO2 equivalent, from January 1, 2015," he told MPs.
Tabling his 2013 Budget in the National Assembly, he said the impact of this would be softened by a tax-free exemption threshold of 60 percent, "with additional allowances for emissions intensive and trade-exposed industries."
According to proposals in the 2013 Budget Review, the basic tax-free threshold of 60 percent will apply during the first phase of the implementation of carbon tax - from 2015 to 2020. The document says also under consideration is a "gradual phasing out" of the electricity levy as the carbon tax is phased in.
As the continent's top greenhouse gas emitter, South Africa is looking to curb emissions, although it also plans some exemptions to protect industry, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said during his 2013 budget speech.
ArcelorMittal South Africa, a unit of the world's biggest steelmaker and one of the biggest polluters in the country, finished down 6.1 percent at 28.83 rand following the speech, becoming the biggest percentage decliner on Johannesburg's All-share index.
Property intended for a wind farm south of the Hoopeston area has again changed hands.Development of the Hoopeston Wind farm has been ongoing since 2008. The most recent coordinator, GDF SUEZ Energy North America Inc in Houston, Texas, took over in 2011 when it purchased the previous wind farm developer, International Power.
Now, a representative of Apex Wind Energy Inc. confirmed Friday afternoon that the company has taken over the project. Company Communications Manage Dahvi Wilson indicated in an e-mail that Apex acquired the Hoopeston Wind farm from GDF SUEZ in February.
Apex Wind Energy, Inc. is an independent renewable energy company based in Charlottesville, Va. Since its founding in 2009, Apex has completed 10 acquisitions and has project sites in 20 states, including Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Marv and Marlys Jensen just wanted to supplement their income with a little energy-and-money producing wind turbine on their farm in rural Kensington, Minn. But they ended up taking out loans to pay more than $245,000 to an Excelsior-based company called Renewable Energy SD for a 160-foot wind tower that currently produces nothing.
Their first wind turbine, delivered in August 2010, didn't work, and they were told they had to trade it in and buy a second, more expensive one, they said. That one was supposed to be delivered in January 2012.
A year later, they're still waiting.
"What I got is a $200,000 deer stand," said Marv Jensen, 72.
Swanson sued Renewable Energy SD on Friday in Hennepin County District Court, charging that it bilked 15 farm couples out of hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. The company, which was formed in 2009 by Shawn Dooling, used federal stimulus money that was supposed to help the country out of the recession to entice farmers to buy the turbines, the suit alleges.
And instead of paying back the Jensens and similarly unhappy customers, the company appears to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on luxury supercars, the complaint said.
Those cars include a 2009 Lamborghini worth $297,700, two 2011 Bentleys worth about $180,000 each, a 2010 Ferrari worth $219,000 and two 2011 Audis, worth $183,700 and $72,900, according to the complaint.
Dooling lives in a house in Shorewood on Lake Minnetonka with an assessed value of $1.6 million, according to Hennepin County records.
Visitors to Frederik W. Mowinckel’s Victorian house in the London neighbourhood of Chelsea are treated to an exotic winter sight: a 15ft-high banana plant flourishing on an outdoor terrace. And perhaps more exotic than the plant itself is the coating on the wall behind it: a white paint that has been created to mimic perfectly the self-cleaning surface layer of the lotus leaf, and to reflect maximum daylight. The banana plant isn’t the only beneficiary, says Mowinckel. The paint never loses shine, reflecting light back into the house and cutting down on the need for artificial lighting.
Although the building dates from 1850, Norwegian-born Mowinckel has redesigned it as a model of how to eco-proof a traditional family home in the middle of a major city. And yet inside, except for a touch-screen panel on a front wall, the building bears no obvious traces of its conversion.
“My wife Louise didn’t want something that looked like an eco-house – she wanted a beautiful house,” says Mowinckel, director of Turquoise International, a specialist merchant bank that supports clean energy companies in the early stages of their development. He ushers me into a series of elegant interiors where off-white walls provide backdrops for 19th-century Norwegian paintings and objects made by local designers on the nearby King’s Road. “Louise did the aesthetics,” he says. “I did the technical bits, behind the walls.”
In his first address as Secretary of State, John Kerry said we must safeguard “the most sacred trust” we owe to our children and grandchildren: “an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate.”
But hyperbole is getting stale even for a politician. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and British Meteorological Office now recognize that average global temperatures haven’t budged in almost 17 years. Little evidence suggests that sea level rise, storms, droughts or other weather and climate events or trends display any statistically significant difference from what Earth and mankind have experienced over the last 100-plus years. So Mr. Kerry’s dire warnings are on thin polar ice...
By far the worst climate crisis, however, is eco-imperialism perpetrated against African and other poor nations.
When their country was building a new power plant that would burn natural gas that previously was wasted through “flaring,” President Obama told Ghanaians they should use their “bountiful” wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels energy, instead of fossil fuels that “threaten” global warming...
Blaming carbon dioxide emissions and rising seas is always easier than manning up and shouldering the blame for Bloombergsian failures. Citing IPCC computer forecasts of nastier storms and flooded coastlines likewise gives insurers a convenient excuse for hiking insurance rates.
When the conversation next turns to climate change, discussing the real climate crisis – and the true meaning of environmental justice – could open a few eyes.
Read Last Week's Green Corruption Chronicles...