Amidst complaints and an investigation, N.C. based solar provider says another company is to blame for shortfalls

Pink Energy, formerly know as Power Home Solar, says faulty equipment sold by Generac has cost them millions in damages, and their reputation.
As the industry becomes crowded, some companies are facing backlash from customers.
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 5:22 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Solar energy is having its moment in the sun as more people are making the switch to alternative energy sources. But as with many emerging technologies, more companies are capitalizing on the product. As the industry becomes crowded, some companies are facing backlash from customers.

North Carolina-based company Pink Energy, previously known as Power Home Solar, is facing hundreds of complaints as well as an investigation by the Missouri Attorney General. After multiple reports by media outlets across the country, Pink Energy has said that they aren’t to blame and have filed a federal lawsuit against another company for their role in Pink Energy customers’ frustrations.

However, that hasn’t stopped the complaints from rolling in. Some of the allegations against the company include deceptive sales tactics; others report faulty equipment. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced an investigation into the company for ‘Alleged Violations of Consumer Protection Law’ in March of this year.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein provided WECT and WBTV with 85 complaints filed against the company, many of which share similar themes.

The Better Business Bureau’s ranking for Pink Energy sits at an ‘A+’ but the BBB has issued an alert for a pattern of complaints for the company. However, that alert was recently updated saying the company has been working to address the concerns.

“Pink Energy outlined their plan to address the pattern of complaints identified by BBB and this update serves as the basis for our review of their progress to date. BBB identified three primary areas of concern: sales practices, product quality, and customer service issues. Pink Energy implemented a number of new policies and procedures relative to the training and oversight of their sales teams. BBB has seen a reduction in the number of complaints relating solely to selling practices,” according to the BBB.

‘That’s more than a car payment’

Jamie Desruisseau made the switch to solar a little more than one year ago at his home in Columbus County. He said what he was told he’d get wasn’t what he got-- at all.

“They came in and [the] salesman walked in and gave me nothing but sunshine and roses, and ‘you’re gonna save money, your electric bills are going to go away,’ and just literally made it seem like it was just too good to be true,” he said.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

“[I] should have know better obviously, they’re not saving me money,” he said.

In fact, he said he is now paying even more than he ever has for his energy bills.

“I’m paying right now $450 or more per month for my solar payment and my electric bill and, next month, it’s gonna go up to $550. I mean, that’s more than a car payment, my mortgage is 950,” he said.

He’s not alone.

Jonna and Larry Tidwell live in Missouri. In February, they agreed to purchase two solar panel systems from Pink Energy. While they have more than one issue with their systems, they said what they were promised and what they are getting are not the same.

“Everything the salesperson told us is false, let me say, in my opinion, it is false,” Jonna Tidwell, who had two solar systems installed on her properties in Missouri, said.

While having clean energy is an incentive for people, the idea of being ‘off the grid’ and being able to be self-sustainable is also often a reason why people choose to go solar.

“We’re very upfront with them and said, these are the specifics we’re looking for, we want to make a total, totally off the grid. We want this to supply all electricity, you know, period. without us using anything from our electric company,” Larry Tidwell said.

He says the sales representative from Pink Energy told them that would not be a problem; but nearly seven months later, it is.

“We started in February, I made three payments on one of the systems and one payment on one and it’s still not running,” Joanna Tidwell said.

While these claims are a big part of the issues some customers have voiced against Pink Energy, the company is now suing another company, Generac, saying equipment failures on a Generac product are to blame for the company’s sudden increase in complaints.

More than 700 of the complaints listed with the BBB are for ‘problems with a product or service.’ From faulty solar panels simply not producing any power, to damaged roofs customers are saying the systems they were sold simply don’t work.

“My solar system was installed October 27, 2020. To date, my install in not complete, [the] system is not active. I have placed call after call since end of November asking for status updates, being told it was held up in inspections,” one Castle Hayne resident wrote, in a complaint to Stein.

And within the 85 complaints the Attorney General provided, failure to produce power or faulty equipment is a recurring theme.

“5 months ago, Power Home Solar installed a home solar panels and Generac battery system. I’m paying monthly $185.00 and the unit is not producing any power. So, I’m also paying local electric company for power,” an Onslow County resident said in their complaint to Stein’s office.

The lawsuit

Since 2020, Pink Energy has worked with Generac, a company that provides generators and other energy products to residential customers.

In August, Pink Energy filed a federal lawsuit against Generac and blames the company for Pink Energy’s valuation decreasing by more than half-a-billion dollars.

“As of September 2021 … PHS had obtained a business valuation of $1.05 billion. By June 2022, PHS’s business valuation had plummeted to $452 million, as a direct and proximate result of the harm Generac’s defective products have caused to PHS’s business and reputation,” according to the filings in the federal lawsuit.

It’s a huge loss for a company that previously received accolades in the solar energy industry.

“For the year 2021, according to Solar Power World, PHS ranked number 7 among the top 228 residential solar contractors nationwide. PHS has grown to serve approximately 35,000 customers and has made the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies four (4) of the last five (5) years,” according to the lawsuit.

Generac has not yet responded to the allegations, but a spokesperson for the company provided WECT with a statement.

“We are disappointed by the allegations being made by Power Home Solar, which was recently re-branded as Pink Energy. We have taken notice of recent news reports and articles citing customer concerns with Pink Energy’s marketing practices and service support. We expect all our independent dealers and distributors to act with integrity and meet high standards in providing customer services and proper product installation,” that statement read, in part.

The federal suit has been filed in Virginia’s Western District and Pink Energy is asking that they be awarded damages, which according to the company’s filings, are worth millions.

New companies entering the market

With companies like Pink Energy approaching the industry on a large scale, other companies like Cape Fear Solar Systems provide services on a smaller scale. And although companies like Pink Energy have been in the business for years, there are many new companies getting into the business.

Gabe Amey, Sales Manager for Cape Fear Solar Systems, said that the competition is healthy, but when companies with little experience get into solar energy, he’s seen customers run into these problems.

“This is not something where anybody can just jump off the street and start selling this equipment. But it’s one of the things that we’re finding is that obviously, as the technology improves, interest continues to grow, people continue to want to get into this industry. And that’s great, that’s exciting,” he said.

But, with salespeople going from door-to-door and cold calling potential customers, Amey said the knowledge and training that some companies provide their salespeople isn’t enough.

“From a sales standpoint, we end up with a lot of these companies across the country, with salespeople that have less than adequate training, they aren’t really sure about what they’re really offering. They’re just given limited information about what to go out there and sell. And the priority becomes to sell more sell fast, as opposed to selling a system that’s actually going to be there for the time,” he said.

While some companies promote the product as a financial product Amey says it shouldn’t be viewed that way.

“When we see proposals or certain offerings from some of these sales organizations or larger regional national companies, oftentimes, the sales folks are really pitching it, as you’ll just swap one bill for the other, that we would really probably describe that as an oversimplification of how it actually works,” Amey said.

Many of the Pink Energy customers who spoke with WECT said not only did their bills not go down, in many cases, they are paying hundreds of dollars more every month.

“We are looking at making payments for 25 years until we are nearly 90 years old for something that does not work or probably does not supply near the electricity. We were promised and after 5 years we may have to spend more money to keep it working and have the possibility of losing our home. We cannot afford payments to the electricity company and solar,” Joanna Tidwell wrote in a complaint to the Missouri Attorney General.

Although Amey doesn’t sell his systems as a financial product, these systems can save customers money on power bills, but that isn’t always the case.

“There are many cases … where you are able to break even from day one in regard to your average monthly savings, and what that monthly payment is for the system,” he said.

There are misconceptions when it comes to solar and the idea that your power company will be paying you for the energy you produce. In most situations, Amey said that isn’t how it works.

“It’s not given to you by the government Dukes not paying for it, no utilities paying for it, but it is an investment,” Amey said. “It would only be any excess you produce that gets pushed back to the utility where you build up credits. There are very few utilities that would actually cut a check for excess production.

In terms of high-pressure sales tactics or misleading customers about the money they could save, Amey said the best policy, is honesty.

“We feel very comfortable being honest about how exactly the system will work. What it will save them. In some cases, people save more, some people save a little bit less. But at the end of the day, it’s left to them as a decision as part of whether or not they want that on their home,” he said.

Amey suggests customers get multiple quotes and take their time when choosing a solar energy provider, to avoid any of the pitfalls that customers across the country, not only with Pink Energy but others as well, are facing.