One Problem After Another: Two Years Later, a Bankrupt Company and No Solution in Sight for Solar Customers – WJHL-TV News Channel 11 | Vette Leader

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Kevin Jones was excited about installing a 14-kilowatt solar array at his Kingsport home when he borrowed $93,000 from Sunlight Financial and invited a company called Pink Energy to do the work in August 2020 to execute.

“I wanted to do something to leave my grandchildren with something better and try to take a little stress off the grid, so solar energy sounded like a good way to do that,” the retired Navy electrician told News Channel 11 on Wednesday .

Jones expected his two solar arrays would produce enough juice to power his own home and sell a portion of the surplus to the Tennessee Valley Authority through BrightRidge, his electric utility.

Little did he and his wife, Myra, know that more than two years later they would have a half-workable system and a litany of complaints and bad experiences. To add insult to injury, they had to forfeit an additional $4,500 after replacing a refrigerator that was ruined when plumbers made a mistake that caused a power spike that Jones said could have burned down their home.

Inverters for Kevin Jones’ two solar arrays at his home in Kingsport, Tennessee. One of the inverters is not powered because the plant has been missing a critical part since August. (WJHL photo)

“When things got out of hand, the inspectors, the city inspectors and the electrical inspectors started getting involved,” Jones said.

Those inspectors, he added, “started noticing shortcuts and things missed along the way that a licensed electrician would notice [would have caught]what I thought was Power Home/Pink Energy apparently wasn’t the case.”

A big pink headache

The Joneses are far from alone. Attorneys general from several states have scrambled to protect consumers who have encountered various problems after spending large sums of money at now-bankrupt Pink Energy. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in federal court last month.

Kevin Jones talks to WJHL’s John Jenco about the numerous issues he’s had with his home solar power system. (WJHL photo)

Those AGs, including those from Tennessee, Virginia and seven others, have asked Sunlight Financial and four other lenders to suspend payments and accrued interest for customers “who financed systems from Pink Energy and did not receive a working solar power system,” the attorney general’s spokeswoman said Tennessee, Elizabeth Lane wrote an email to News Channel 11 on Wednesday.

“I can confirm that there are more than 100 complaints related to Pink Energy in our office,” Lane added.

One of them came from the Joneses. Kevin Jones said it took about eight months for his system to be fully installed and certified.

Once online, Jones discovered another major problem. If a homeowner wants to power their own home and not just sell it back to the grid, lithium-ion batteries that store generated solar power are a must. Because solar renewable energy is “intermittent” — panels don’t produce power when it’s dark — these batteries can provide stored power on demand.

But not when placed in the elements, which the installers did with Jonese’s batteries, although a schematic showed them in his garage. During the winter of 2020/21, Jones had to use BrightRidge power because his batteries weren’t working in the cold.

“I ended up having to really pull teeth over the next year to put that battery in Summer 2021,” Jones said.

It’s taken months, but Jones’ battery storage is finally where it can actually work. (WJHL photo)

He finally succeeded and even got a refund for the $5,000 he spent building a fireproof room in his garage, which now houses the batteries.

This allowed the electricity generated by a 20-panel array on the Joneses’ roof and another on their RV garage not only to generate enough for the entire needs of their home, but also to store it. But their troubles weren’t over yet.

‘Oh damn’

Solar power systems are complex, and although they produce electricity passively, electricity is dangerous. In August 2022, when Generac learned that one of its critical components used between each module was faulty, it notified customers of a firmware update that would shut down affected solar arrays until a replacement arrived.

The “801” SNAP RS’s have been on thousands of Pink Energy solar arrays – including the one at Jonese’s RV garage.

“This component has been updated with firmware because of some fires that have occurred due to the faulty 801,” Jones said.

Generac had an “802” version that worked well. It just didn’t have enough of the units.

“Pink Energy had hundreds of thousands of these on systems that just went dark overnight,” Jones said.

As his wait grew longer, he attempted to contact Pink Energy. “I’ve been calling all day and never got through.”

Jones began to pay attention to the dynamic between Pink Energy and Generac at this time and learned that Pink Energy was suing Generac because there were not enough replacement 802s available.

The solar array in Jones’ RV garage was producing about 7kW of power until a firmware update shut it down in August pending a new part arriving. Since then it has stood still and he cannot get an answer as to when the new part will be installed. (WJHL photo)

Several months have passed and the only progress Jones made was when he contacted Sunlight Financial, whom he pays $335 a month for a system that once again doesn’t work as promised.

“Sunlight Financial and Generac say they are working to fix the issue,” Jones said.

“I recently heard from Sunlight Financial that they are working with Generac to try and get service for Pink Energy’s customers who have been let down, but at this point I still have a system outage.”

But Jones isn’t optimistic as long as Pink Energy’s bankruptcy case remains unresolved. In the meantime, he’s only generating enough electricity to meet 60% of his home consumption, leaving him with monthly bills from BrightRidge when he expects his system to make money and cover all his needs.

A bleak foreseeable future

Jones, who still owes more than $60,000 on his loan, said he’s “between a rock and a hard place” as he awaits the day his system works as promised. He said he was not confident that day would come anytime soon.

“I don’t have anyone willing to work on the system,” he said. “It doesn’t appear that Sunlight Financial or Generac are ready to move forward to try and resolve anything until this Chapter 7 bankruptcy is out of court and settled.”

Jones says he’s better off than some Pink Energy customers — at least the system in his house is still working. (WJHL photo)

He’s invested enough at this point to have followed an initial bankruptcy hearing that included testimony from Pink Energy CEO Jayson Waller. Listening through the Internet, he was convinced that there are no white knights among the players.

“He seemed genuinely contrite and sorry for how things turned out and really blamed Generac for his company’s failures,” Jones said. “Well, do I really believe that? no Before the Generac firmware push, there were problems. At this point it is in the hands of the North Carolina bankruptcy court.”

Lane said the Tennessee AG office didn’t have much say at the time. She would not comment on whether a situation like Jones’s fits in with those for which the AG is asking lenders to suspend payments and interest.

When asked how quickly Tennessee Attorney General Jason Skrmetti expects a response from lenders and what the bureau would do if they deny the recommendation, she said no timeline had been set and doubted a possible response.

“We … will not go into hypotheses about what the ultimate outcome might be, depending on how they choose to respond,” Lane wrote, but acknowledged “there will be further discussion on the matter.”

For his part, Skrmetti said in a press release that he was “proud of the diligence of our consumer protection team in investigating this matter.”

Jones said he doesn’t want to back down from his financial commitment, but it’s heartening to think the AG’s office is accomplishing something significant for consumers like him.

“I think they could recoup some of that lost money for Pink Energy’s customers,” he said.

“As much as I’ve had problems with my system, there are other people out there who don’t even have the system working right now. I’m sure at this point this will be based on what each individual customer wants because some people just want to get rid of it and be done with it, and some people want it to run and work like me.”

Jones has two pieces of advice for people looking to make the switch to solar power.

“If you are looking for a reputable company, go through them [Better Business Bureau]. I wish I had done that,” he said.

“If your solar company does some installations with Generac, make sure they know what they’re doing and watch them, watch what they’re doing.”

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