The Truth Behind the New 'Salt-Free' Diet at AWSL

by Melissa Davis - 11/17/2009 4:42:46 PM

When Atlantic Wind & Solar (AWSL) issued its latest investor update, the company buried a potential bombshell – disclosing plans to abandon a celebrated project with Morton Salt – beneath announcements about a revised business strategy and a new corporate headquarters.

Just two months ago, AWSL claimed that it had landed a contract with Morton to carry out a feasibility study for the generation of renewable power at the company’s big salt-producing facility in the Bahamas. Back then, at least, AWSL seemed excited by the deal and the opportunities it might bring.

“Should the feasibility study lead to implementation,” AWSL stated, “it would be the first hybrid renewable energy (RE) system used to solely power any major manufacturing facility in the Caribbean – thereby verifying the RE potential for all to see and opening up many new possibilities for Atlantic’s products and services in this region.”

By the time AWSL issued last week’s press release, however, the company had lost all of that enthusiasm. Treating the matter almost as a non-event, AWSL mentioned in passing that Morton had “put this project on hold until further notice” and that AWSL would not be pursuing the business because it no longer fit with the company’s strategy anyway.

Since AWSL had actually named the party involved in this project – and the name was such a prominent one – The Street Sweeper decided to contact Germany-based K+S Aktiengesellschaft, the new owner of Morton, to find out why the deal had fallen apart. K+S offered a far different version of AWSL’s involvement with the big salt company.

“We found out that this firm sent us a proposal for services, and we elected not to use them,” K+S stated in a recent email to The Street Sweeper. “Nor have they ever performed any work for Morton Salt.”

Based on AWSL’s stock action, investors clearly believe that the company’s reported deals are real. Originally selling for just 20 cents earlier this year, the stock – boosted by a steady stream of upbeat news – now fetches around $3.50 a share.

When It Rains, It Pours

Exactly one month after announcing the Morton contract, AWSL celebrated a new partnership with Cushman & Wakefield – a world-renowned real estate company – designed to jumpstart the company’s new business strategy.

Specifically, AWSL said that Cushman & Wakefield would be securing long-term leases from property owners interested in installing the company’s solar power systems on the rooftops of their commercial buildings in Ontario. Within three weeks of forming that alliance, AWSL had announced three letters of intent and one purchase order for major rooftop projects in the region.

Coincidentally, AWSL inked all four deals with unnamed parties interested in rooftop systems covering 50,000 square feet of space. The deals, calling for power systems that can generate about 250 kilowatts of electricity apiece, represent almost $9 million worth of revenue for a company that has so far posted no reported sales at all.

By virtually any measure, AWSL’s reported deals are eye-popping in size. When discussing a similar rooftop system planned for a Target store in California two years ago, a local newspaper marveled that 50,000 square feet worth of solar panels would be “more than enough to cover a football field – goal line to goal line.”

In fact, a separate news report indicates, every one of AWSL’s projects would shatter current records for solar rooftop-power systems in Canada. Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail noted, LoyaltyOne celebrated the completion of a new 50,000-square-foot call center in Calgary featuring rooftop panels designed to generate 165 kilowatts of electricity.  Notably, the newspaper stated, that call center now boasts the largest rooftop solar-power system in all of Canada.

In fact, The Globe and Mail reported, LoyaltyOne wound up hiring multiple companies for the $2 million project because of its massive scope.

“No single provider is really prepared for a project of this size,” LoyaltyOne Vice President Debbie Baxter explained to the newspaper. “When we tendered the project … we decided to spread the work over different trades and encourage them to grow a little bit because of the (underdeveloped) state of our solar-implementation industry.”

Nevertheless, with a staff of just six people – half of them company officers – young AWSL has announced plans to tackle even bigger projects itself.

Movin’ on up to a High-Rise

AWSL hopes that its new corporate headquarters will help bolster the company’s stature.

Until recently, AWSL listed a company address that appears to belong to a UPS store in Florida. After critics suggested that AWSL was operating out of a Post Office box, however, the company suddenly announced plans last week to relocate its headquarters to a high-rise in the heart of Toronto’s financial district. By next month, AWSL said, the company will be occupying a newly renovated 1,400-square-foot office at 350 Bay Street.

Although a leasing agent confirmed that AWSL has arranged to move into the Bay Street building soon, the company looks poorer than ordinary tenants. Until recently, in fact, AWSL listed no cash on its balance sheet at all. Even now, with just $150,000 in the bank, the company lacks the funds necessary to cover its expenses for a full year.

Nevertheless, AWSL insists that it can not only pay its bills but also finance its ambitious business plans to boot.

“The company has cash on hand,” AWSL assured The Street Sweeper, “and is adequately funded by its directors and outside third-party investors in order to meet its budgetary requirements and to fulfill their projects on hand.”

Of course, AWSL has always relied on its own stock as valuable currency as well. That stock currently gives AWSL a market value of roughly $100 million despite the company’s lack of revenues or profits. Even so, several tout sheets – including one featuring commentary about signs of possible risks – believe that the shares could climb higher still.

“If this stock gets hot, it could be a $10 stock based upon the buzz about it,” a blogger wrote on InvestorSoup after AWSL hit an all-time high of $4.84 last month. “Don’t trust buzz, though. I would like to see AWSL start booking deals, signing contracts, getting necessary financing, become a reporting company, etc.

“But until then,” the blogger concluded, “I still remain a fan.”

* Editor's Note: The Street Sweeper hired an independent fact-checker to verify the accuracy of this story. Whenever possible, it has also included links to the actual documents used during the course of its research. To contact Melissa Davis, the author of this story, please send an email to [email protected]