LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tim Morrow waited five months for his Solar Titan USA solar panel system to pass inspection and start to produce power. While he waited, he was forced to make payments on his $57,000 loan.
In the initial FOCUS report, customers shared reimbursement agreements that provided customers with some of the money they were paying on loans for systems that were not up and running.
Those payments came with a catch.
In Morrow's case, the reimbursement agreement included “the ability to use him as a positive referral and giving us positive reviews and ratings" and giving Solar Titan positive reviews.
Following our inquiry into reimbursements with positive reviews, Solar Titan stated that the wording has recently been revised, asking customers to bring frustrations directly to them.
Therefore, Morrow got a second letter, reimbursing $1,500 with the condition that he brings his frustrations and concerns directly to Solar Titan for resolution and not turn to negative reviews about the company or disparaging comments.
FOCUS again asked Solar Titan USA why Morrow had to sign a letter with that condition, and Tuesday Solar Titan said it was continuing to work on wording to eliminate confusion, making sure to get it right.
And on Tuesday, Morrow got a third reimbursement letter, and this time there were no strings attached.
As FOCUS already reported, the Kentucky Attorney General's Office is investigating, and complaints have also gotten the attention of the Attorney General’s offices in Georgia and Tennessee.
“At this point, we've received somewhere between 15 to 20 complaints, and more are coming in,” Samantha Fisher, the communications director for the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, said.
Solar Titan USA is based in Knoxville, and the Tennessee Attorney General's Office said the company's sales pitch to folks in that eastern part of the state was that the solar panels would greatly reduce their electric bill.
Another selling point, customers were told they could also be rewarded for producing surplus solar power for the grid.
“In some cases, they would even be able to sell back or provide electricity to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) through certain systems, buyback systems that didn't actually exist,” Fisher said.
The Tennessee Attorney General's Office said it's been in touch with Solar Titan USA, and that it's currently reviewing the company's solar system sales practices.
Problems may include the ‘conditional’ reimbursement letters, which the Kentucky Attorney General's Office has already told FOCUS could be argued to be deceptive business practice.
“Our legal team determines that it may appear that the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act has been violated in some way, then it rises to another level,” Fisher explained.
Solar Titan USA said customers with concerns need to call and they will work to remedy any issues.
As we continued to ask questions, Solar Titan USA hired Fletcher Marketing PR to handle the media.
Here is Solar Titan USA's full emailed response on May 24:
We want to take the time to respond to the concerns brought to WHAS about Solar Titan USA.
Regarding work being done before permits were pulled:
We were working with a third party that encountered unforeseen issues causing delays in the permitting process on several projects. Solar Titan was unaware of these issues and believed that the permits had already been pulled. We have since strengthened our existing policy that requires confirmation on all permits being pulled PRIOR to installation and have added additional verification steps to ensure this does not happen in the future.
As stated in your report, Mr. Morrow’s equipment is now up and running functionally. We spoke with Mr. Bryant on Friday and learned that an electric upgrade we were waiting on has now been completed. Now that we are aware that step is complete, we are getting Mr. Bryant scheduled to finish his project and expect his system to be up and running within the coming week or two.
Regarding the wording on reimbursements:
We care deeply about our customers. The wording on these courtesy reimbursements and our contracts is intended to empower and encourage our customers to bring their concerns, questions and any complaints directly to us so that we might address their concerns, answer their questions or fix any issues. It is difficult when we learn about issues and complaints through third-party channels. If we learn about these concerns directly from our customers, we can work with them to remedy issues, answer questions and hopefully come up with solutions that make everyone happy. The reimbursements are not contingent upon positive reviews, and we are not trying to silence any concerns, rather learn about them first-hand. We will continue to work on the wording to eliminate confusion and make sure we get it right.
In addition, we have reached out to Chris Lewis, the executive director of the Kentucky Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection, to ensure that we are using best practices and language in all customer communication, however, we have not heard back from him yet.
We have tried to contact the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office multiple times in reference to the open complaints you mentioned in your report, but we have not been able to get through and our calls have not been returned.
Again, we care about our customers. We believe in the future of solar power to help fill future energy needs. We are not perfect, but we are working all the time to make our processes and policies better. We always strive for an open line of communication with our customers and want to know of any concerns so that we can work to make things right. We will continue to work with our industry and state partners to bring solar power to people and work tirelessly to make our customers happy.
We are also working to improve communication with the media so that misinformation can be avoided in the future.
Dale Roden, Technical Operations Manager