In a letter to DOE Loan Programs Office Director Jigar Shah, the Republicans — House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member John Barrasso, R-Wyo. — expressed concern about rewarding the Houston-based Sunnova Energy Corporation. They cited reports highlighting how Sunnova has previously scammed and misled consumers.
"We are alarmed about recent, credible reports that Sunnova has racked up numerous consumer complaints, including those alleging troubling sales practices, such as Sunnova pressing elderly homeowners in poor health to sign long-term contracts costing tens of thousands of dollars.
"These reports cite interviews with individuals who struggled to deal with large contracts that their elderly parents signed shortly before passing away as well as state consumer complaints alleging maintenance delays and predatory sales strategies."
In late September, the DOE Loan Programs Office announced that it had closed on a $3 billion partial loan guarantee to Sunnova's Project Hestia which will provide solar and battery storage to low-income individuals, as part of President Biden's sweeping green energy agenda. The agreement marked the federal government's largest commitment ever made to solar power.
The announcement stated that the project will provide loans for clean energy systems for approximately 75,000 to 115,000 homeowners throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
But, while the reports cited in the letter by McMorris Rodgers and Barrasso focus on specific incidents, the Republican leaders wrote in their letter that those reports "are not isolated incidents."
Earlier this year, for example, the Better Business Bureau issued an alert for Sunnova and assigned it an "F rating" over its pattern of "deceptive sales practices," poor customer service and repair technicians not arriving on schedule. And consumers reported that their issues were only resolved by Sunnova after filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
One complaint filed in October with the Better Business Bureau states:
"To this date, despite countless phone calls, we still have not received service for that part almost 5 months later. Our panels have not been working, therefore we are not receiving any benefit for them given that we are not receiving any credit with our electrical company due to them not working. We have tried over 100 times to call and work with the company to get them fixed."Another October complaint states:
"Our solar system (Sunova) [sic] has not been working properly for 4+ months. We have contacted Sunova [sic] multiple times with little to no action. Our contract states that Sunova [sic] will monitor our system and if there is an issue will fix in a timely manner. We have been fighting with this company for months to fix our system with no success. We have paid over a thousand dollars for electricity to national grid since our system isn't working. Sunova [sic] is in breach of contract."In 2019, Puerto Rico's Energy Bureau published a report, USA Today reported, that accused Sunnova of misleading consumers on the costs, contract length and potential savings from their services. The report went as far as to state that the company's "practices during the contracting process are not consistent with the obligations that power companies have."
Sunnova, which owns a majority of the residential market share in Puerto Rico, was hit with 436 complaints in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the report stated.
And the Washington Free Beacon reported last month that Sunnova has allegedly scammed vulnerable consumers including the elderly and sick. The report pointed to multiple examples of door-to-door Sunnova salesmen persuading such individuals to sign 25-year solar panel leases.
"It was truly ripping off old people," Terry Blythe, a Texas resident, told the outlet. "It was the biggest ripoff I've ever seen."
Blythe said her late father had been coerced into signing a 25-year solar panel lease in 2020 when he was 86 years old and suffering from dementia.
A Sunnova spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon:
"All customers, regardless of age, are required to complete a thorough validation process where we confirm their identity and ensure that they have read and comprehended the terms of their agreements. The company 'cannot and [does] not decline to enter into an agreement based on a customer's age'.Sunnova was founded in 2012 and ultimately went public seven years later in 2019. The company offers to install rooftop solar panels, mainly for residential customers, in exchange for a low-cost lease.
"Sunnova is "fully dedicated to assisting all our customers in resolving any issues that may arise during the life of their agreement or due to external factors."
However, in recent years, the company has lost hundreds of millions of dollars and its stock price has plummeted. In 2021, it lost $147.5 million; in 2022, it lost $130 million; and, since January 2021, its stock price has fallen more than 77%.
The DOE and Sunnova didn't respond to requests for comment.