Sep 062016

CALCULATOR AND MONEY Timothy Nichols - Dreamstime.comBy Suzanne Kelly.

On the face of it, Aberdeen Community Energy’s mission to ‘build, own and operate the Donside Hydro Scheme on behalf of the community’ sounds like a good idea for green energy in the local community.

Clean energy and community ownership are desirable of course.

However, before anyone joins the rush to invest in this or any scheme, they should exercise caution.

Sinclair Laing is ACE’s ‘Founder Director and Chair of Aberdeen Community Energy’ and Management Committee Member of Donside Community Association. On his personal facebook page he shared ACE’s post and wrote:

“C’mon people show us the colour of your money! And we will more than double it for you!”
– Sinclair Laing 14 August, Facebook

This is quite a bold promise – as the director is making it, does this constitute a guarantee? Are investors buying into the scheme because of this promise?

One reason people might have great faith in this start up is that Aberdeen City Council included it in its publication ‘Our Green Times’. This is veritably an endorsement by the city of the ACE project. The feature in ‘Our Green Times’ does not mention that Laing is also an Aberdeen City Council employee – this fact may be part of the reason for the article/advert in the city’s green newsletter.

Aberdeen Voice spoke with a representative from Our Green Times who believes the City had vetted the scheme’s legality, but the spokesperson was not aware of Laing’s Facebook claim to ‘more than double’ an investment in ACE. The spokesperson said that Our Green Times features items written by the City’s officers (such as Laing) and also takes news items from the city’s partner organisations.

ACE was asked to answer these questions.

  1. I attach a screen shot from Sinclair Laing’s Facebook page with a link to ACE in which he makes the claim investors will ‘more than double’ their money. Can ACE please comment on this comment? Does ACE also make this claim? How many investments were received on and following the date of Laing’s statement?
  1. Will Sinclair Laing or any others be salaried, remunerated or given shares for free? If so, please give details.
  1. Please supply names of any other directors, board members, and whether or not they are to be salaried, remunerated or given shares gratis.

A spokesperson for ACE from Weber Shandwick responded:

  1. “Yes indeed Sinclair’s statement is correct and it’s a statement that ACE stands by. It’s based on financial models developed for this project by Sharenergy, a specialist cooperative who are very much experts in this field. They were commissioned to work on this project for their expertise in community energy projects and share offers.“The Financial models have also be reviewed by Local Energy Scotland (LES), a Scottish Government appointed consortium who manage the Scottish Gov’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) fund. The LES & the CARES fund have helped to support this project from the outset with expertise and finance.“I’m sure you’ve already seen our share offer guidance document, but if not then please refer to section 8 for all financial details, including a member payment profile which demonstrates how the financial return works and how indeed investors can double their money.”
  1.  “See page 17 of the share offer document for more information. None of the ACE directors will be compensated financially – it’s all on a voluntary basis. In fact in Sinclair’s case it’s quite the opposite, he used his own, personal money to help bankroll the community scheme at an early stage, to fill a funding gap so that the project could move forward.”
  2. “For a full list of ACE’s directors please see this page of our website . And in terms of remuneration/salaries, it’s all completely voluntary – no salaries on share incentives involved. Everyone involved in the project is driven by one vision – to generate clean, renewable electricity and to create a sustainable income for the local area to spend on community priorities.”

Anyone who wants to invest in any schemes should be aware that their money is at risk. It is not possible to guarantee in any scheme that money will be doubled. Asked in general terms whether a start-up could or should make a promise about returns, a spokesman for Citizens Advice Scotland said:

“We do not comment on specific organisations, but In general terms we would urge people to be extremely cautious before entering into any new deals or financial arrangements. Every day CAB advisers across Scotland are seeing people who have lost money in new schemes which promised to make them rich but ended up doing the opposite.

“We are not saying that you should never invest in a new scheme, but we do urge people to read all the small print of any deal before parting with your money, and make sure you also do as much research as possible, getting as much independent advice and information as you possibly can about the organisation and the people involved.

“We have found a general rule of thumb is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Those who are considering investing in any schemes should consider advice offered by the Financial Conduct Authority.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.

  7 Responses to “Concerns Emerge Around ACE Energy Share Offer”

  1. I considered putting some money into this scheme as it seems worthy and green and is offering seven percent ROI. However at that rate I would get back my investment after fourteen years, and in order to ‘double my money ‘ I would then have to be able to sell someone my shares. And that’s likely to be the tricky bit.I don’t think there’ll be many buyers around that far down the line. The project itself isn’t going to have a great lifespan.

  2. This is a very negative article on what should be an exceptionally positive project for Aberdeen. “Concerns emerge around ACE energy share offer” what concerns? That your money may be at risk if you invest, is this not the same for any investment made? Should the author of this article not then print a warning on every investment scheme out there? The only value from this article is that prospective investors should do due diligence.
    Who’s to say those investing are actually looking for a return on their investment, some may just be willing to contribute to a local environmental project, which could kick start sustainability and green living in communities up and down the Dee and Don. Do people donate to Greenpeace expecting financial return?
    The useful information in this article is the last line and link to the FCA, maybe a positive piece with the same warning would have been more appropriate.

    • Suzanne Kelly says: sorry I’m not sorry. I can see both a potentially good green investment as well as pitfalls. City council employee Laing’s scheme was advertised in a taxpayer-funded city green newspaper, with no reference to the connection between Laing and the city; and there is the little matter of advertising to the investing public that they will ‘more than double their investment’. The idea for this story came to me from a source who is equally concerned about this double-your-money promise. Whether any authorities are looking into elements of this scheme and the promise, I am not at liberty to confirm or deny (but don’t be surprised if there are developments). Please do see the other comment though. In essence, the city is endorsing a city employee’s scheme and thereby lending ACC weight to the share sales and the remarkable doubling promise. This article serves as a reminder that people should not be swept up by the city’s greenwash or grand promises. Let’s hope it all goes smoothly and everyone ends up rich. If not, you can’t say I didn’t raise concerns. Of course, you a welcome to write your own fact-based article for AV should you wish.

      • The double your money “promise” is based on the lifetime of the scheme 20 plus years, and based on case studies elsewhere in the country and across Europe. This is a long term investment clearly stated on the literature. It’s not a get rich scheme, anyone who thinks or thought otherwise never read the proposal.
        The risks are also clearly stated on the share brochure section 12 and again in section 15, covering the cost of contingency loans, dry summer’s fluctuation in wholesale prices.
        Given that 4.6billion of taxpayer’s money is used to fund green projects, are we really supposed to be repulsed that an advertisement in a local council (tax payers) funded publication was used, to gain support for a local community project.
        Why should there be a reference to Laing’s employment with ACC and this project?

      • Suzanne says: again, since it is lost on you, the city endorsed a scheme run by one of its officers without clarifying this material fact. I am delighted you read every detail. Do you know that not everyone does read the fine print, and when someone sees a director posting ‘c’mon show me the colour of your money and I will more than double it’ without referring anyone to the fine print, there might be an issue? Perhaps you don’t think so – and BTW what is your involvement if any to the company, council or the director? – but for people like me who have worked in advertising, for the CAB in principle and quite likely from the point of view of some regulators, there are some issues here. Actually, if you factor inflation into the equation, then it’s impossible to say that you are doubling the actual value of today’s money over 20 years, isn’t it?

      • Let me start by stating I have no connection to the company, any director or the council. I happened across the project by chance while out photographing wildlife on the Don, as an engineer I was interested in the technology and researched the project. The statement you refer to “ C mon show me the colour of your money and I will more than double it” it taken from Sinclair’s face book page not the ACE energy page, so I take this as being targeted at his friends, not the general public. If you had bothered to read the literature on you would have already seen that the risks of investment are not in small print, but full section (12) on page 31 same font size the rest of the print throughout the document. You would have also seen that Sinclair is not the only employee of ACC involved in the project. ACC also appear on the share document along with a number of public and private organizations.
        ACC’s green times print articles on lots of projects both public and private initiatives. This is an informative publication designed to let citizens know what’s going on, given that ACC is one of the biggest, if not the biggest employer in Aberdeen, I’d be sure that plenty other employees of ACC are involved in voluntary organizations doing there bit for the environment. ACC also appear on the share document along with a number of public and private organizations.
        The article you have written is very lazy attempt at investigative journalism IMO, of the 3 questions put to ACE #2 &3 are the same, IMO you engaged in trolling of an individual’s face book page and apart from the warning that investments may go up or down, has absolutely no substance to suggest any concern, given the dramatic title of the article. It is tactless gossip.

  3. I would be correct in saying that the surname Laing is purely coincidental and Sinclair Laing is no relation to Jenny Laing (ACC ((Labour) current administration leader)

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