The “white certificate” scam that raises electricity bills

“White card” is the name that the Aosta Finance Police gave to the investigation launched in July 2019 on an alleged maxi scam in the energy sector: according to the accusations, the scam would have generated the increase in electricity bills. The Fiamme Gialle arrested twenty-two people between Italy and Germany, seized assets for 41 million euros and investigated a total of 113 people, for facts dating back to the period 2016-2020. The very heavy accusations are criminal association, aggravated fraud for the achievement of public funds and money laundering.

The scam that increased the bills

The alleged energy scam that made the bills of the light discovered by the Guardia di Finanza has developed, again according to the accusation, around the mechanism of the so-called Tee (energy efficiency certificates), otherwise known as “white certificates”, which came into force in 2005. Financed also with taxpayers’ money through a tariff component in the bill, they would have been falsified. But let’s go in order, to understand what it is.

The “Tee” or white certificates are the main tool for promoting energy efficiency in Italy in the industrial sector, network infrastructures, services and transport, but they also concern interventions carried out in the civil sector. In other words, if an energy efficiency intervention is carried out that guarantees substantial energy savings, it is possible to obtain securities that can be converted into cash. Specifically, white certificates are negotiable securities that certify the achievement of savings in the final uses of energy through interventions and projects to increase energy efficiency. One certificate is equivalent to saving one tonne of oil equivalent (TOE). They are issued by the manager of the electricity market (GME) on the basis of the savings obtained also through interventions for high-efficiency cogeneration plants (plants, that is, which exploit a single primary energy to produce in a company, in a combined and efficient way, simultaneously electrical and thermal).

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How did the white certificate scam work, according to the accusatory hypothesis? At the basis of the alleged scam is the obligation, on the part of electricity and gas distribution companies with more than 50 thousand end customers, to achieve specific energy saving objectives annually. Companies, to fulfill their obligation that gives the right to white certificates, can carry out energy efficiency projects or purchase the certificates themselves from other operators in the sector, the so-called “Energy Service Company” (Esco), companies that voluntarily choose to carry out projects reduction of consumption in the final uses of energy.

Here comes the Energy Service Manager Spa (Gse), una society with public participation that recognizes – both to distribution companies and to Esco – a value in certificates based on the energy savings deriving from the interventions carried out. The certificates are then freely exchangeable on the energy efficiency securities market managed by the Manager of the Energy Markets Spa (GME). Not only that, because the white certificates are then presented to the Energy Services Operator (GSE) to accrue the right to obtain a tariff contribution in cash from the Cassa per i energy and environmental services (CSEA).

Public grants for energy saving taken from the bill

The public contribution disbursed by the Cassa is parameterized to the market value of the white certificates exchanged and is financed by all taxpayers, through the levies made on the energy bills under the item “system charges”, expenses that have little to do with actual energy consumption and that go to finance, in fact, activities of general interest for the national electricity system. In recent years, the general system charges have represented a growing and increasingly significant share of the total annual expenditure of electricity by end users: the item on charges that appears on the payments of energy bills represents approximately 25% of the total to be paid, regardless of your supplier. This is why this alleged energy scam, if the accusatory hypothesis were confirmed, would directly affect the increase in the cost of electricity bills.

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Forged white certificates, according to the indictment

The investigation in question began in Saint Christophe (Aosta), where the first of the eight ghost “Energy Service Company” (Esco) was discovered: without an operational structure and administered by a figurehead, the company would have been able to unduly obtain, compared to 26 false projects presented to the GSE, about 27 thousand white certificates, then resold for a value of just over 8 million euros. In this phase, the involvement of some German companies emerged. The investigations made it possible to trace the existence of an alleged criminal association which from an anonymous office in Turin managed, in addition to that of the Aosta Valley, seven other “Esco” in the provinces of Milan, Turin, Varese, Asti, Vercelli and Biella. “Real empty boxes used for the sole purpose of obtaining and exchanging white certificates,” writes the prosecution.

Of the illicit proceeds (more than 27 million euros), 14 million would have been subject to laundering in Albania, Bulgaria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Malta, Principality of Monaco, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Hungary, returning to Italy in cash to then be reinvested in financial instruments, cryptocurrencies and luxury real estate, again according to the indictment. All this, explains the investigating judge of Turin in the precautionary custody order, would have been made possible “by exploiting the flaws in the legislative system of incentives for global energy saving, if we consider that the accreditation phases at the GSE, as well as the presentation and evaluation of the projects, took place exclusively electronically, without any actual real feedback in the field “.

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The alleged scam financed with withdrawals in the bill

“The maxi scam – continues the investigating judge – was set up by the identified Esco, unduly obtaining white certificates for a total value of 27 million euros”. Financed, as mentioned before, also at the expense of the final taxpayers through the levies made on the energy bills under “system charges”. The prosecution claims that citizens, with that item in their bills, found themselves paying charges that never really translated into energy savings, but would have financed the purchase of villas and cryptocurrencies. The effect on the rise in the bill is indirect: if the results on the energy saving front are not there, the charges clearly increase.

In total, in order to carry out the alleged scam, 95 false projects were presented concerning works never carried out (mainly replacement of boilers, insulation of walls, thermal coats) on real properties existing on the national territory which, together with companies and unaware people, would have been systematically identified through simple web searches. The investigation into the alleged fraud took place with the coordination of Eurojust (the European Union Agency for Criminal Judicial Cooperation), in synergy with Germany through the connection between the Aosta and Duisburg prosecutors. The suspects reside in the provinces of Turin, Brescia, Naples, Salerno, Foggia and Barletta-Andria-Trani.

The bill under the microscope: what we really pay

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