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Republicans probe Biden admin’s $3 billion loan to solar firm accused of elderly exploitation

By Jake Beardslee · December 8, 2023

In brief…

  • House and Senate Republicans probe $3B DOE clean energy loan to Sunnova Energy
  • Sunnova accused of exploiting elderly and vulnerable consumers
  • Complaints cite failure to provide contracted services
  • Largest federal loan guarantee ever to a solar company
Congressional Republicans are investigating a $3 billion Department of Energy subsidy to solar provider Sunnova Energy Corporation over numerous complaints it exploits vulnerable consumers through misleading contracts.  Atm830/Solar Panels by Derek Mayes/Wikimedia

House and Senate Republicans are investigating a recent $3 billion Department of Energy loan guarantee to Houston-based Sunnova Energy Corporation, citing “troubling” reports that the solar provider has scammed vulnerable consumers.

In a letter to DOE Loan Programs Office Director Jigar Shah, House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Senate Energy Committee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) expressed alarm over Sunnova’s “numerous consumer complaints” including “pressing elderly homeowners in poor health to sign long-term contracts costing tens of thousands of dollars.”

The letter states these are “not isolated incidents,” pointing to a Better Business Bureau alert assigning Sunnova an “F rating” for “deceptive sales practices” and “poor customer service.” Some complaints allege panels failed for months without repairs. In 2019, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau released an examination charging Sunnova with deceiving customers about pricing, agreement duration, and possible cost reductions of their services.

The Washington Free Beacon reported Sunnova salespeople persuaded vulnerable seniors, including some with dementia, to sign 25-year leases. Sunnova maintains “all customers” go through an identity verification process to ensure comprehension of contract terms, regardless of age.

In September, the Department of Energy publicized a $3 billion partial loan guarantee to Sunnova for installing solar panels and batteries in over 75,000 low-income homes. The DOE described this subsidy as the federal government’s biggest-ever investment in solar energy. Sunnova’s main business is leasing rooftop solar arrays to homeowners rather than selling them outright.