Congressional Probe Opens On Company Accused Of Scamming Elderly
The Department of Energy (DOE) has come under fire in recent weeks over its decision to award a $3 billion loan guarantee to Sunnova Energy Corporation, a solar energy company with a history of scamming vulnerable consumers. Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have launched investigations into the DOE's decision, citing numerous complaints of Sunnova's deceptive and predatory sales practices.
House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member John Barrasso sent a letter to DOE Loan Programs Office Director Jigar Shah expressing their concerns about rewarding Sunnova with such a large sum of money. The Republicans referenced reports of Sunnova pressuring elderly homeowners in poor health to sign long-term contracts costing tens of thousands of dollars, as well as state consumer complaints alleging maintenance delays and predatory sales tactics.
The DOE's decision to provide a $3 billion partial loan guarantee to Sunnova's Project Hestia was part of President Biden's green energy agenda. The project aims to provide solar and battery storage to low-income individuals and is expected to reach approximately 75,000 to 115,000 homeowners across the US and Puerto Rico.
However, the reports cited by McMorris Rodgers and Barrasso are not isolated incidents. The Better Business Bureau issued an "F rating" to Sunnova earlier this year for its pattern of deceptive sales practices, poor customer service, and delayed repairs. Consumers have reported issues being resolved only after filing complaints with the Bureau.
In Puerto Rico, the Energy Bureau published a report accusing Sunnova of misleading consumers on costs, contract lengths, and potential savings. The company was also hit with 436 complaints in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, according to USA Today.
Additionally, the Washington Free Beacon reported that Sunnova has targeted vulnerable consumers, specifically the elderly and sick, with aggressive and deceptive sales tactics. The company has allegedly persuaded individuals to sign 25-year solar panel leases, even coercing an 86-year-old man suffering from dementia to sign in 2020. Sunnova denies any wrongdoing and claims that all customers, regardless of age, must go through a thorough validation process before signing any agreements.
Founded in 2012, Sunnova went public in 2019 but has struggled financially. In 2021, the company lost $147.5 million and its stock price has fallen more than 77% since January 2021. Despite this, the DOE has chosen to award Sunnova with the largest commitment the federal government has ever made to solar power.
Neither the DOE nor Sunnova have responded to requests for comment on the investigations into the loan guarantee. Critics argue that the DOE's decision to award such a large sum of money to a company with a history of deceptive practices and financial struggles raises concerns about its oversight and accountability. With the investigations ongoing, the fate of Sunnova's loan guarantee remains uncertain.