Four Years without justice for Sunnova’s Solar Panel Customers

The Energy Bureau says it will not offer a remedy to more than 500 affected people, after confirming that the Texas company acted illegally in Puerto Rico.

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Edgardo Rodriguez, a Carolina resident, is one of more than 500 customers who requested assistance from OIPC after facing problems with Sunnova's service and equipment.

Photo by Nahira Montcourt | Center for Investigative Journalism

Texas-based Sunnova, which has a virtual monopoly on Puerto Rico’s residential solar panel rental market, may no longer do business without being held accountable, but it won’t have to respond retroactively to the hundreds of clients who filed complaints over problems with its service and equipment.

The Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) confirmed that Sunnova has to change its business practices because it failed to disclose full information before clients signed the contracts. Nor did it adequately inform them on how the photovoltaic panels would work when connected to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) network, nor did it warn them that they would be useless when the power went out, as it happened after Hurricane María.

The procedure that the company offered to consumers to challenge billing issues is also illegal: an arbitration process, sometimes in Texas, in which customers are prevented from seeking help from the PREB, the top regulatory authority over the island’s public and private energy system.

Sunnova’s modus operandi violates Act 57 of 2014, known as the Energy Transformation and Relief Act, the PREB stated. But the regulator’s resolution and order, notified last December, arrived late and offers only a partial solution for customers.

It has been four years since the Independent Consumer Protection Office (OIPC, in Spanish) filed a request for an investigation against Sunnova, on behalf of those affected. But the decision that the PREB ultimately issued will not protect those who have already rented the solar panels, rather those who do so in the future, said attorney Hannia Rivera, executive director of the OIPC.

Hannia Rivera, executive director of the Independent Consumer Protection Office, where more than 500 customers have filed complaints against Sunnova.
Photo by Nahira Montcourt | Center for Investigative Journalism

“Justice was not served to Sunnova clients. The matter is not resolved,” she added. The OIPC is requesting a review and maintains that, if no remedy is found, it will go to the Court of Appeals.

Madeline Batista, who sought help from the OIPC after installing solar panels at her home in Naguabo, confirmed she is dissatisfied with the process. “That resolution does not benefit me at all. What I wanted was for Sunnova to take the equipment and dispose of it and end the contract.”

For Sunnova, Puerto Rico isn’t insignificant. After California and New Jersey, this is where it has the most clients — nearly 16,000. The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) published data, updated through December 2020, that shows the company’s dominance on the island. Sunnova commands 96% of the residential photovoltaic panel rental market, as well as 76% of all residential equipment interconnected with PREPA’s network through the net metering system.

Through this system, solar panels power homes and the excess energy is delivered to PREPA’s grid in exchange for a credit on consumers’ bills. If they need more electricity than their photovoltaic panels supply, they buy it from the public corporation.

“There are many solar providers on the island and Puerto Ricans have the choice to work with any of the installers that are available to them; we have always welcomed this competition,” the company said in a statement provided to the CPI, to questions about the monopolistic domain that the company exercises in the local renewable energy industry. This media outlet also asked what specific measures it would take to address the PREB’s decisions, but Sunnova said it could not discuss the matter because the issue is under consideration by the regulator in a new administrative proceeding against the company.

The business segment that the company commands — residential solar panel rentals — has only two providers in Puerto Rico: Sunnova and California-based Sunrun. This modality of providing access to renewable energy differs from other companies that sell equipment to be used completely independently from PREPA or connecting to it through the net metering system.

The Puerto Rican company Maximo Solar, a former partner of the Texan company, which is now associated with Sunrun, had accused Sunnova in a lawsuit of carrying out a “master plan” to implement a monopoly in the island’s residential solar market. This case was resolved in October 2019, according to the court docket, with an agreement between the parties that resulted in the contract between Sunnova and a consumer being terminated.

“Our clean energy service offerings have allowed people from all walks of life to access the savings and reliability that solar and storage provides. We are committed to building a cleaner, more reliable and more resilient energy system in Puerto Rico,” the company claimed.

These statements contrast with the experience of more than 500 people who filed complaints with the OIPC and asked it to represent them before the Bureau to resolve their problems with Sunnova. In addition, more than 250 people have filed complaints in the past three years with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which annually accredits companies that demonstrate ethical business practices and good customer service. The BBB last certified Sunnova in 2019 in Texas, where the corporation is headquartered.

Solar panels, which generate electricity at points of consumption, can help people from losing power after a major hurricane like María, which after destroying PREPA’s power grid in 2017 caused one of the longest blackouts in global history. This was one of the reasons why patients who depended on electrical equipment died.

Similar to most of the plaintiffs, Madeline Batista signed a request for services and a credit check on a tablet, but later learned that she had actually signed a contract. Furthermore, she did not see the promised savings in the bills after the solar panels were installed. And when Hurricane María hit, the photovoltaic panels, which had no batteries, stopped working: the technology disconnected from PREPA on every blackout. That was something that she had not been previously told about, she told the CPI.

It was after Hurricane María that Sunnova began offering battery-powered energy storage, available for rental at an additional cost, allowing solar equipment to operate independently of PREPA and keeping homes energized during blackouts.

Batista moved to South Carolina after the hurricane. She left the solar panels installed on the roof of her home because the 25-year contract with Sunnova does not allow her to remove them unless someone buying the house wants to take on the debt. There is only one relative now living in her house, but the electricity bill with Sunnova is fixed: $109 per month. “That’s very expensive for someone who is hardly ever in the house. The system was not worth it.”

Problems with Sunnova are not exclusive to Puerto Rico

Batista’s story is similar to Virginia Doroteo’s, but she lives in Los Angeles, California. Six years ago, her husband was shown a tablet with a document in English, and he only speaks Spanish. He initialized it expecting that they would give him a qualification and then give him the contract to sign. But he too had unknowingly committed to a 25-year contract. He and his wife wanted to buy the panels, not rent them.

To install the photovoltaic panels, they had to make improvements to the roof. They asked Sunnova for time to get them done. “They told us not to worry, that we could install the solar panels and then remove them when we were ready for the repairs and put them back later. But then they told us that taking them off and putting them back on was going to cost us $1,500, which is what they charge, but they didn’t tell us that initially,” said Doroteo.

Then she told Sunnova representatives: “the contract is in English. My husband doesn’t speak English. You’re only interested in closing the contract to get the money.”

The highest electricity bills came in at around $80 every summer, when the air conditioning was turned on most of the time. With Sunnova, they have been paying more than $85 a month, which will increase, because the contract has a 3% increase every year. “With them the bill never dropped. On the contrary, it went up,” said Doroteo.

Six months ago, Doroteo and her husband stopped the automatic monthly payment to Sunnova and said they were not going to pay them anymore. “Since then, they haven’t left me alone. They call daily to collect.” Doroteo offered the company to pay off the pending debt if Sunnova disassembled and removed the panels. “They told me that wasn’t going to happen and that I would have to keep the contract.” That’s impossible for her family: “with the pandemic I don’t have a job, I have no money.”

Doroteo’s husband, Marcos Luna, was one of those who filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, this entity confirmed to the CPI. The BBB told the company that it would not renew its good service and ethical business practices certification until the PREB case in Puerto Rico is resolved. However, Sunnova did not reapply for accreditation in 2020. It was unable to do so. It had to resolve and respond to six complaints filed with that entity, a requirement to be able to get a new certification. Sunnova told the CPI that it intends to recertify in the “near future.”

Based in Houston, Sunnova was founded in 2012 and has been a publicly traded company since 2019. It has more than 100,000 clients throughout the US and territories connected to net metering programs, according to the EIA.

Although renewable energy is a way of breaking free from imported fossil fuel pollutants, such as oil, coal, and methane gas, the EIA’s numbers show that Puerto Rican residential solar market also depends on foreing sources because it’s controlled by Sunnova.

“Getting rid of fossil fuel doesn’t mean that we have freed ourselves from colonialism and energy imperialism,” said Marcel Castro, professor of engineering at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez Campus, who is advocating for a significant island wide effort to develop renewable energy by putting solar panels on the roofs of houses and using batteries to store the energy. 

Waiting for the Bureau to approve a protocol

In 2019, after the PREB found that the company did not comply with Puerto Rico’s public energy policy, Sunnova expressed its opposition to the investigative process. It alleged that the regulator lacked information that contradicted its findings and that it based its conclusions on client allegations without giving it the opportunity to refute them.

In the resolution and order issued in December 2020, the PREB upheld its conclusions and ordered the end of the investigation. It further said that Sunnova’s allegations, that it adequately trains and supervises its local partners to provide good service, fell short. Its local partners are intermediary companies that promote solar panels with no initial installation costs and with fixed monthly rental payments, such as Power Solar, Pura Energía, Iso Group, Windmar Home and Melpro.

The PREB also ordered Sunnova to develop a protocol to disclose full business information before clients sign contracts and to process billing objections without requiring arbitration. The regulator is still evaluating the protocol that Sunnova would apply, almost two years after opening an administrative procedure for Notice of Non-compliance against Sunnova.

The new administrative procedure that began in 2019 was interrupted by a procedural error by the PREB, which prevented from initiating it until the prior investigation was completed. Once it was completed in December 2020, the PREB reopened the new process and is now evaluating the protocol that Sunnova presented.

“There’s no justification. The amount of time it has taken is excessive,” said attorney Hannia Rivera.

Another dispute has now come up as a result of the conclusions of the investigation and the 2019 administrative procedure. The OIPC, defender of the rights of energy consumers, asked that PREB reconsider its decision to end the investigation, because it did not offer any remedy to those affected. It also requested that it promptly evaluate the protocol submitted by the company, to protect more consumers from experiencing the same problems. It asked to be an intervening agent in the pending case from which a protocol must result, something that was rejected by the regulator, which is asking the OIPC to first establish why it should be allowed to intervene.

The PREB told the CPI that there will be no remedy for claimants who have already signed contracts with Sunnova, because the OIPC asked for an investigation into Sunnova’s practices but failed to file a complaint under Regulation 8543 requesting specific remedies.

“Neither the OIPC, nor the clients that had flagged these Sunnova practices, petitioned an adjudicative process of complaints at the Energy Bureau,” the PREB said in a statement to the CPI. “For the Bureau to provide specific remedies, it must be under an adjudicative process, which is typically a complaint process that’s characterized by giving the parties access to due process of law, and a formal process for adjudicating controversies. The remedies requested by the OIPC and Sunnova were procedural in nature.”

However, PREB’s stance of not providing a remedy to Sunnova’s clients raises questions about the extent to which the regulator responds to article 6.3 of Act 57 of 2014, which makes it responsible for investigating and protecting consumer rights, with all the additional and implicit powers necessary to comply with public policy.

“The OIPC’s position is that the Bureau had and still has the legal power to grant a remedy to all Sunnova consumers and, to protect their rights and the public interest, it was obliged to do so. This, regardless of the process in question or the remedies that the OIPC may have requested,” said Attorney Rivera.

The case proves how access to energy justice in Puerto Rico is bureaucratic and technical, while discouraging consumers from seeking a cleaner and cheaper energy service.

If necessary, “I will be forced to go to the Court of Appeals. I’m going to defend the powers that were delegated to us by law. Our powers are absolute. I don’t see why the Bureau believes that we cannot intervene, especially when this case arises from an investigation request from the OPIC,” said Rivera.

“I want to somehow guarantee that the corresponding administrative measures are taken against this company.”

“I hope that the situation that happened with the investigation request, which took almost five years, will not happen again in this case … It’s not fair that at this point we’re still deciding whether the company should in fact be sanctioned when the Bureau itself determined that it violated the law. And it seems unfair to me that consumers haven’t been given relief. I’m very disappointed with the process that was brought before the Bureau,” Rivera added.

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22 thoughts on “Four Years without justice for Sunnova’s Solar Panel Customers

  1. Llevo con el sistema desde septiembre 2019 se tardaron más de un año para mi medición neta! Tuve que pagar la AEE y luma por más de 12 meses (Primer problema). Mi batería se daño en septiembre 2021 y aún la garantía no la a remplazado aun cuando tuve que pagar 2mil dólares. Agosto 5 2022, solo dicen q ya esta la orden esperando por la pieza! Ya son 10 meses con el sistema sin batería y yo pagando lo como el contrato sugiere.

  2. Hoy 8/18/2022 10:00 am Llevo con el system desde July 2018 hasta hoy Vamos por 3 batteries 🔋 L G 2018 al 2022 y de June 28 2022 aun no la Han remplazado solo dicen que ya esta la orden esperando por la pieza! Ya vamos pa 3 meses. Con el sistema sin bateria. Luis.

  3. A California resident in short Sunnova sucks DO NOT BUY, BOT LEASE FROM THIS COMPANY!!!!! I financed my solar thru Sunnova whom also did the install to date some panels don’t produce, it takes forever to get a tech out here and when one does show up absolutely nothing gets replaced and I’m told I’m the system is working like it should🤬 yet I will have panels that clearly do not produce as I monitor thier production. When I set up a service appointment no one will show up and when I call regarding the no show I’m told I have no appointment in the system this after providing them an appointment verification number. Sunnova does not honor your/our contracts. Sunnova does not provide the service you sign up for.

    • I am also from California and financed through Sunnova in 2015. The panels work okay so far, however in February of this year Sunnova increased my monthly bill to nearly double. My escalator is 1.9% each year. I contacted customer service numerous times, through phone, website and email. My bill continued to increase so now it is the payment has increased to more than $200 higher monthly than it was previously. I finally received a phone call from customer service mid-October telling me they are working on the issue!!! 8 months and this is all I am hearing??!! Since then I have spoken to numerous customer service people and they finally assigned me a specific person to contact. Based on looking at my contract and verifying each payment it appears that after 7 years they lost my prepayment of over $15,000 and are now telling me they do not show that it was paid. I have sent them the contracts and the receipt that I received from them in 2016 when they received the prepayment via email (per their request) more than 10 times.

      All of this to no avail at this point. I am so very frustrated and angry. Let me know if a suit is filed please!!!

  4. Hi, to all customers that have been taken advantaged of by Sunnova. We should start a nation-wide class action lawsuit against Sunnova, including Puert Rico. I myself have not signed a contract with Sunnova, but my did father, who has since passed. My father was lured into signing a contract that was written in English, a language that he did not speak or understand. Additionally, he was unable to read or write in Spanish, his native language, making him more vulnerable to their predatory strategy. I have tried many times to get the contract terminated due to their unfair practices and his passin. I filed an official complained with Better Business Bureau, and no action was taken to my dissappointment. I looked into other ways to terminate this contract, all of which led to a dead end. One of these ways included sending a letter to the District Attorney in Bakersfield, California, who offered no assistance. Unfortunately, my family and I are still dealing with the predatory practices of Sunnova due to inheriting the contract, and have read many similar accounts from other Sunnova customers. If there is an ungoing class action lawsuit in California, I would appreciate being included.

    • Please add me to the class action suit. Solar panels caught on fire burning part of the house. Customer service at Sunnova is non-responsive. They actually asked me if this happened before – guess they have customers who frequently have their house burn down multiple times due to malfunctioning solar panels?? Real grap🤦🏻‍♀️

    • I’m in Harrisburg, PA. They put a hole in my shingles while installing. They couldn’t get a tech out for three weeks and I had water coming in over my master bedroom. I photo-documented everything and when the tech did come out, he fount where we had to patch the roof, admitted this was damage from installation and verified the damage caused. I paid for a roofer, drywall finisher and a painter to fix the damage. They still haven’t “made a determination” on this being a valid claim and no one calls me back. It’s been six months since the damage. I stopped payments and recorded all conversations with them telling them that I am willing to restart payments after they make a “determination.” It’s been two months without a payment and no call back. I’m in for a class action. I have recorded calls and work for a large Contractor in my area. I followed the rules here. They are in breach.

  5. Hola, a todos los que hablan espanol, Yo soy Everardo Moreno. Mi papa firmo un contrato con Sunnova. Mi papa no sabia leer ni escribir y aun asi un representatne de Sunnova lo dejo firmar el contrato. Mi papa fallecio y yo herede dicho contrato trate de anularlo y no lo pude hacer. Busque ayuda con BBB y no la pude encontrar, ahora la casa necesita techo y me toco lidear con Sunnova. Me puse a buscar en la red y encontre este articulo. Hay mucha mas gente de la cual Sunnova a tomado ventaja. Creo que podemos encontrar bastate gente para llevar acabo una demanda a nivel estatal o a nivel de todo el pais incluyendo Puerto Rico. Tambien hay una pagina de Facebook se llama Sunnova Solar Corporation Complains, en la cual hay mucha gente que tienen problemas con Sunnova. voy a dar mi numero de telefono al cual me pueden llamar o mandar un texto, 626-827-1608. Cuando tengamos suficiente gente yo voy a buscar un abogado el cual quiere tomar nuestro caso para empezar en California.
    For people that speak English this is my phone number to contact me 626-8271608. After we have enough people I will reasearch Attorneys that might be welling to take our case to begin in California.
    Gracias a Mr.Elivan Martinez Mercado.

    • Hola mi nombre es Sara Anguiano, estoy en California yo también tuve problemas con la batería y la compañía de luz me cobro 1700 dólares. Aparte de pagarle a Sunnova 160 dólares al mes por su servio. Nadie quiere tomar responsabilidad del caso. Please add me to your list for any further complaints against the company.

  6. Sunnova es como una mafia. Te venden un embuste. Cuesta mucho más que tener energía de Luma. Me dañaron mi techó. Ahora filtra en todo los cuartos. Ni me lo quieren arreglar ni cancelar el contrato. El sistema de servicio es una porquería. Ahora tengo que ir a corté o un abogado por qué se lavaron las manos con migo….No filmen nada con ellos. Son unos mafiosos pillos…

  7. I signed the contract in 2019 and the solar panels were not installed in 2020 of Oct. I don’t see any benefit at all with our solar system including the battery. I have notice same amt of payments thru PGE plus our loan, my app from TESLA, is showing less to zero productivity. Based from Tesla monitoring, my solar system is not producing as it should. I reported it to the company but they don’t want to send a technician to our property because they said on their end they were producing? How can these people lie. They are absolutely scamming more and more people and their solar panels are either defective and the battery is not being backed up properly. I reported them thru BBB and got two phone calls but instead of sending a tech, they stated I am bind
    with the contract and I told them they have to also uphold their end of it. I am paying a service/product that is not servicing us properly.

    If there’s any in California who has the same problem as I do. Please count me in.

    Thank you

  8. I’m in New Jersey and would love to participate in a class action lawsuit against SUNNOVA!

    They are totally screwing me and my husband over, UGH!! They knew we needed a new roof (it’s over 35 years old) before they installed my 19 panels back in 2019. Told us ‘No problem, get the panels up and running and wherever you’re ready to redo your roof, we’ll come out, remove them, and reinstall for you, simple and no cost’ HA!! So for the past several months. I’ve been fighting with them cause we’re ready to do our roof, found a roofer at a decent price which was not easy either… NOW they’re telling us to pay $4500 upfront and then they’ll go out to get the work order. Seem crazy to me and they lied about not costing anything. We lease our panels so I know they accrue all the NJ tax rebates, not us. Called around to some smaller companies who would do it for less (that’s how I know they’re gouging us) BUT these smaller companies won’t do it without SUNNOVA’s permission and SUNNOVA won’t speak to me unless we pay their price first!!! It’s been a vicious circle! I’m done!! I’m about to go up on my roof and remove them myself, stack them in the garage, and let SUNNOVA know to come by and pick up your panels — just don’t want to know what a HUGE company can and will do to us?!

    • Mi tia una senora mayor con padecimiento del corazon y su nietecito con autismo w
      En carolina puerto rico sunnova los tiene hace 2 semanas sin poder usar el aire acondicionado con el calor que esta haciendo. Llevan 3 semanas abriendo un caso. Son unos incompentes y abusadores.

  9. I’m a resident of the island of serious irregularities – Puerto Rico. As a result of Maria in 2017 , I being a person of third generation, entertained based on an air advertisement, and contacted Windmar Solar. The young courteous representative convinced me in purchasing the solar panels. My credit although retired was outstanding. Certain incidents have occurred, eg power goes out, instructed to reset switch on the Tesla battery. Now I’m incurring a serious financial problem. Received a call from Luma requesting that a payment of $1,500 plus was needed. No way, I said, I have solar for several years and a Meta meter. Now a letter requesting over $900 is received from Luma Electric. I’ve had my checking account debited for over $141. Per month since the installation of solars was made. I’m over 78 yrs of age, and this situation is unhealthy for me. In Puerto Rico it seems that predators have great advantages over its citizens, especially the seniors. I’ve learned from Sunnova that high voltage is coming into my home. I hired an electrician who replaced three(3) circuit breakers that were damaged, however the toaster cannot be use cause what electrical appliances, tv, radio etc are on they shut off but the circuit breakers do not go off cause it’s a high voltage situation. You’ve got to be a rocket scientist to live with this situation. It is disgusting and shameful how corporations are allowed to milk the most vulnerable in Puerto Rico. Pray for solutions. Thank you.

  10. Was told if I needed to do repairs or a new roof sonova would remove panels for free twice in the 25 year lease period and after the 25 years the panels would be mine. Lies, please add me to class action

  11. I purchased the house on October 14, 2022 in Florida and when I moved to the house, I realized that the system was not working correctly I asked the prior owners of the situation and they said they would call but they always trouble shot the system thru the call and only once they send someone. The people that lived her didn’t speak english they spoke Spanish and stated they always had a hard time getting them to help. When I called Sunnova it took them a while to come out. Once they came out, they realized that the transfer switch was not even the one that belonged to the system I had and they switched it out 3 times due to them coming to put in the someone that was the wrong one. So when the light will go out the switch will not transfer to the battery. After that, they realized that the house had 21 panels and six batteries and out of the twenty one panels , five panels that were installed on the roof but never connected to pick any solar or anything. Called them about the batteries the reason being they were not holding power and what shut off so I was using the grid most of the time. I’ve had requested from them several times if they can please come and do a full system check. But they never do they came out to fix the fan on the battery and don’t even have the parts with them so they have to reschedule to come with the parts and every time they gotta come out , it takes them almost a whole month to come out and I’m still with the problem. They state that the system and parts are guaranteed with all services included for 25 years. What’s the point of that? If they come out and once they check your system, they are parts on your systems that are not covered and guaranteed for the 25 years. My system is not even 3 years old and one of my fuse for the in and out that is in the garage went bad and they stated that I would have to pay for the fuse and they’ll do the labor for free. What does that mean if it’s all guaranteed the fuse alone cost is $750.00. So I’m I paying for the whole work or just for a fuse that’s my question. I pay for monthly service that I don’t receive and they don’t even have the decency to credit your account for the month you are with out service. One big disappointment as well is you have to contact 3 different parties to get your problems solved. WE NEED A GOOD CONSUMER ATTORNEY THAT IS WILLING TO LISTEN AND READY ALL OF OUR ISSUES AND CREATE A NATIONAL CLASS ACTION LAW SUITE.

  12. Another thing they do is they tell people that they will be getting a lump sum of money when you file your taxes and once you give them that your bill will remain the same. Well, I would like to know how many people got that lump sum to be able to pay them the money and keep your monthly payments the same, because I surely did not get that amount. I have 15+ cases and no solution.
    We need a good consumer attorney that is willing to take the case and create national settlement lawsuit to assistance us in getting justice for all this company puts everyone through and no consequences whatsoever for them.

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